You might remember late last year, the global marketing wheeze of the century hit Cairo: the taxi service Uber launched Uber PUPPIES 2015, an initiative to deliver puppies from animal shelters on play dates with prospective adopters. In Cairo, they collaborated with the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) dedicating six cars in six destinations for one day. For their part, ESMA put six volunteers and six adorable puppies on the case. And the crowd went wild.
Today, the initiative is still overwhelmingly popular worldwide, with the hashtag #UberPuppyBowl (Uber puppies in time for the Super Bowl) trending in the USA right now. Interestingly, it didn't just work for Uber; umpteen companies quickly picked up on the fact that Uber puppies plus company logo is a pretty neat marketing trick of its own:
Whether it be lobbying politicians or countering the resistance it faces from local taxi services; Uber's marketing genius is essential to their progress. Meanwhile, some people also reminded us of an obvious but important fact:
I did some follow-up on how the whole thing played out in Cairo, speaking to Uber's Marketing department and ESMA themselves. "Demand was really high—we had over 5000 requests. Of course, we couldn’t meet all those requests," said Nour Ahmadein, Uber Marketing and Business Developer. And how many dogs were adopted that day?
Sometimes, when companies collaborate with NGOs, a lot of noise is made but the outcome is not quite as expected. So, Uber gained —but who else did? It's a hugely feelgood project—unless you're a puppy, it seems.
So is this just another cynical marketing initiative? Though no homes were found for the puppies that day, I talked to ESMA about where the initiative scored for animal welfare. The charity took home all the fees paid for the service, at 50LE each; and thousands of people got acquainted with their incredible work. But it was also about awareness of an issue that is particularly strong in Egypt.
It starts, of course, with Egypt's exceptional street dog population. There are thousands of dogs on the streets suffering from diseases, ill care, and common violence. Who hasn't seen kids chasing and beating street dogs? The common response is: "It's just a street dog. Why do you care?"
Mona Khalil, ESMA's co-founder and chair, explained that ESMA are trying to change Egyptian perceptions about baladi (local, non-purebreed) dogs. At the shelter, there are 487 dogs, and they are mostly baladi. The sad fact is that the foreign breeds get adopted fast, while the baladi dogs remain unhomed.
And how would you know their benefits, if you didn’t get to handle and play with them? Egyptians in particular need persuading of the positive qualities of baladi dogs. Other initiatives, such as a neighbourhood watch group run by the Egyptian Society for the Baladi Dog, are encouraging a culture of speaking up for dogs in the street, but it’s slow progress.
"If we get 100 adoptions for baladi dogs per year, only two of them, maximum, would be from Egyptians. The rest would go to foreign adopters," Khalil says. And yet the prejudice against baladi dogs is based on huge misconceptions. "The baladi dog is super smart, a very good watch dog or guard dog, adapts fast to the home and family environment, amazing with kids, easily potty trained and is just low maintenance," Khalil says.
Just getting people to overcome their wariness of street dogs was important, she says. "I still consider that day to be a huge success, because normally families and people are afraid or just don’t like baladi and shelter dogs. But this day, baladi puppies were inside homes, playing with kids. That's an achievement on its own."
"We would love to do the project again," said Ahmadein from Uber. So, yalla Uber—it looks like we'll need a few more puppy drives.
Image courtesy of ESMA. Love this dog? She's called Emmy. If you want to help animals like her, get in touch and find out more about adoption, sponsoring, or other ways to help homeless animals.