Here’s a fact that may make some readers feel old: McGruff the Crime Dog turns 44 this month. That’s 308 in dog years. 

However, the pioneering social media influencer with his famous slogan, “Take a bite out of crime,” is still going strong with a message for a younger generation. 

McGruff, originally a creation of the Ad Council who was introduced to the world in 1979, is now the face of Go For Real, an awareness campaign addressing counterfeiting for the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

As part of the campaign, McGruff recently appeared in Think Again, the latest PSA included in the effort. It should be noted that all of McGruff’s recent work in front of the camera can be seen on the NCPC YouTube channel. 

Fighting the fakes

Since 2019, the counterfeit pharmaceuticals market has been a focus of NCPC, with the Go For Real campaign highlighting the scale of the problem. 

On the whole, counterfeits have become a $2 trillion industry, with products being trafficked in fake sneakers, designer handbags and clothes, beauty and skin care products and pharmaceuticals. 

Counterfeit drugs are responsible for a significant part of the overall counterfeit market, estimated at somewhere between $200 and $432 billion. Some 70% of counterfeit pills have been found to contain fentanyl, contributing to the roughly 70 deaths and 350,000 injuries ascribed to counterfeit products each year. 

While older consumers will remember McGruff, much of the target audience of the Go For Real campaign and the Think Again spots are teens and tweens who may be unfamiliar with this crime-fighting hound. 

“The average length of a brand is about 50 years. McGruff has been around since 1979, so we had to do something to introduce him to a new generation,” says Paul DelPonte, executive director of NCPC. “Otherwise you run the risk of it being just a nice piece of nostalgia.”

New tricks for same old dog

First things first, NCPC and creative agency Hill Holiday Health decided McGruff needed a makeover. 

“We had a lot of work to do in making McGruff more relevant and making the tone of the work more relevant,” Stephanie Berman, chief creative officer of Hill Holiday Health says. “The voice of McGruff had been a little more lighthearted and it just felt wrong for this kind of subject matter and for the style of the work. Jovial didn’t feel right.”

In addition to his voice and tone, his physical appearance has changed as well. DelPonte explains.

“This is the second ad in which McGruff is in 3D animation. We think this one’s better and a little more polished, and it has a sharper message—that we were taking on fake drugs,” he says. 

While the flat animated hound of the 1980s may have a nostalgic appeal, younger viewers have grown up in a different media world. Berman adds, “You think about the game environments, and there’s a degree of polish that they’re used to seeing.”

Both Berman and DelPonte mention the difficulty of reaching younger consumers with a health and safety message. It is an audience that views risks differently. 

“You can tell an adult if you smoke, you’re going to die of lung cancer. However, in a teenage mindset that’s so far in the distance; it’s not in their realm of possibility and they don’t think about it,” DelPonte says. “Teens are not a group that scares easily.”

Pivoting strategy

Instead, the spot tries to tap into another trait that many researchers have found is common among this younger generation: a marked social awareness and engagement with the world at large. 

The campaign highlights the connections between the cheap sneakers—or cheap pills—and child labor, human trafficking, street gangs and illicit drugs. 

“They care about the impact that their choices have on the world,” Berman says. “And so it’s an attempt to plant the first flag in providing them information that has them begin to join the dots and realize that if I’m buying these counterfeits, they’re funding people who are up to no good.” DelPonte also notes that the campaign includes an empowerment message in its tagline, “You’re smart. Buy smart. Go for Real.”

The PSA marks NCPC’s first effort with Hill Holiday Health, and DelPonte says he is enthusiastic about the partnership which has already resulted in industry recognitions and awards for the spot. 

“We are assuming that [this PSA] is going to be one of many because it’s been successful,” DelPonte says, noting that Hill Holiday Health was chosen in order to bring in a creative agency that had experience in the pharmaceutical space and could leverage its expertise.

“The agency learned some things along the way in terms of dealing with a nonprofit like us as well as a government agency,” he says. “The result is a world-class award-winning ad, and I think it’s going to both change minds and save lives.”