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Animal Shelter Uses RFID to Fetch Mall Shoppers' Attention

An ad campaign for the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home utilized passive UHF tags and readers to make outdoor digital signs interactive, causing a dog displayed on the signs to follow shoppers as they walked by.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 21, 2015

For two weeks this past spring, some shoppers at the Westfield Stratford shopping mall in the United Kingdom were followed by a homeless dog appearing on electronic billboards. The roving canine, named Barley, was part of an RFID-based advertisement campaign conducted by Ogilvy on behalf of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, a rehabilitation and adoption organization for stray animals. The enabling technology was provided by Intellifi, and was installed by U.K.-based RFID consultancy RFIDiom.

Ogilvy's ad campaign was the brainchild of William Godfrey, an "experience designer" at the advertising agency. Ogilvy is a fan of Battersea—and of pets in general—Godfrey explains, and he thought about how technology could be used to bring the plight of homeless animals directly to the public in a memorable way. "I had the idea that it would be lovely to digitalize dogs," he says, and radio frequency identification seemed the best technology to make it appear that a digitalized canine was following people in the way that an actual stray dog might do. Ogilvy had considered the use of other technologies, such as cameras, but ultimately decided that RFID would make the process seamless and automatic.

For the Battersea campaign, electronic billboards displayed an image of a dog whose movements corresponded to a nearby shopper's location.
Battersea Dogs and Cats, a well-known fixture in the London area, rehomes approximately 7,000 animals annually, some outside of the United Kingdom. The nonprofit has been in operation for 156 years in the London area, about 150 of which have been at the same site near the Battersea Power Station. The organization liked the idea of the Ogilvy campaign, says Claire Fishersmith, Battersea Dogs and Cats' marketing manager, as well as the fact that the ad agency was donating the solution.

Eric Jones, RFIDiom's managing director, says he, too, is an animal lover. When Ogilvy suggested a campaign using RFID to put images of pets in front of shoppers on an individualized basis, Jones was up to the task, despite the short (two-week) deadline. It was a bit different than the company's typical RFID deployments (which include document-tracking, supply chain management and industrial traceability solutions), and he says he and his engineers enjoy a good challenge.

For Battersea and Ogilvy, the challenge was to provide appropriate content. They wanted to feature a dog that was unimposing (so as not to frighten those who don't necessarily love canines) and that was an actual Battersea veteran. They opted for Barley, who was rescued and adopted through Battersea, and is now an actor in such films as Pirates of the Caribbean. When Barley was photographed for the campaign, the dog's fur was roughed up in order to capture the appearance of a stray in need of a home.

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