Puppy Dog Tales

Report on Natural Pet Food Has Promotional Byproducts

Submitted by Daniel Price on
Clients: Old Mother Hubbard
Release Date: October 2006
Aired By: 2 stations
Disclosed By: No stations

When is a pet food company like an automobile manufacturer? When both downsize their workforce and put money into video news releases (VNRs).

In 2005, the natural pet food company Old Mother Hubbard announced manufacturing layoffs, as did General Motors. "After more than four decades in Lowell, the Old Mother Hubbard plant will stop producing its pet food by June, leaving 100 workers without jobs," reported The Sun (Lowell, MA) on January 28, 2005.

But thanks to broadcast PR firms, Old Mother Hubbard and GM continue to receive positive—if fake—TV news coverage. In October 2006, D S Simon Productions promoted a VNR from Old Mother Hubbard titled, "Do You Know What Goes Into Your Dog's Food?"

The VNR lists unsavory byproducts in many pet foods and offers Old Mother Hubbard's Wellness brand as "a pioneer in natural pet food" that "goes well beyond government dictated standards—avoiding byproducts." Unlike most D S Simon VNRs produced since the April 2006 "Fake TV News" report, the VNR does not contain any built-in client notifications.

On October 11, KLBK-13 (Lubbock, TX) aired a re-voiced and slightly edited version of the VNR. The segment mostly followed the VNR script, though the station's narration did inject a small dose of skepticism into a highly promotional segment, asking: "Are these things [byproducts] really bad for your pets?"

Wellness brand pet food was repeatedly mentioned and shown, but KLBK-13 failed to tell its viewers that every shot and soundbite in the segment actually came from Old Mother Hubbard's PR cupboard. As described in the "Fake TV News" report, KLBK-13 previously failed to disclose a VNR about high-tech car components.

On October 16, WKMG-6 (Orlando, FL) anchor Jacqueline London told viewers, "We've been investigating what is in the food that you're feeding your dog. You won't believe what our pet food probe turned up!"

Then again, you might. The segment [Quicktime - 4.6 MB] was an edited and re-voiced version of the Old Mother Hubbard VNR. WKMG-6 reporter Mike Holfeld added independently-gathered video footage of local pet owners and a pet store, but the segment still prominently featured Wellness brand products.

As the segment ended, Holfeld summed up his advice for viewers: "The message? Read the labels." Yet WKMG-6 failed to label or otherwise disclose the sponsored video in Holfeld's "Problem Solvers" segment.

Original Old Mother Hubbard VNR KLBK-13 10PM newscast
Created by D S Simon Productions October 11, 2006
Voiced by publicist Re-voiced by station reporter