After David MacNeil’s dog collapsed last July and was given a grim cancer diagnosis with a life expectancy of one month, he took the 7-year-old golden retriever named Scout to the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, hoping for a minor medical miracle.
MacNeil, the chief executive of WeatherTech, the suburban Chicago manufacturer best known for its floor mats and custom automotive liners, was beyond grateful. On Sunday, his gratitude will be on display in one of the most coveted forms of advertising: a Super Bowl commercial.
The 30-second spot, titled “Lucky Dog,” is set to air during the second quarter of Super Bowl LIV on Sunday and tells Scout’s story from diagnosis to recovery as it spotlights the veterinary school at UW-Madison. The commercial ends with a call to donate, in which all money raised through the advertised WeatherTech link will benefit the school’s medical research. The school said in a statement that funds will be routed through the University of Wisconsin Foundation.
“My original reaction was, ‘No way,’” said Mark Markel, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison. “I think just because of how happy [MacNeil] was with the care Scout received — all our folks are so talented and empathetic — I think he just wanted an opportunity, and was in this rare position, to give back.” He told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday that the upcoming spot is, unsurprisingly, the first time the school will be featured in a Super Bowl ad (it will be a fourth Super Bowl commercial appearance for Scout).
“This is very unusual for a company to create a Super Bowl commercial to benefit a school and not to sell its own products,” Markel said. MacNeil, who has run ads for WeatherTech during previous Super Bowls, was in talks with his ad firm last summer for a 2020 commercial. Markel said he was not part of the early discussions and was happily surprised to learn MacNeil wanted to feature the school.
MacNeil did not respond to immediate requests for an interview Tuesday. It is unclear how much WeatherTech’s spot for the university cost, but Reuters reports that a 30-second ad running during the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs runs as high as $5.6 million.
“We wanted to use the biggest stage possible to highlight Scout’s story and these incredible breakthroughs, which are not just limited to helping dogs and pets,” MacNeil said in a blog post from UW-Madison announcing the ad. “This research will help advance cancer treatments for humans as well, so there’s the potential to save millions of lives of all species. ”
In a statement, UW-Madison notes that dogs and humans share similar cancer rates — about 1 in 4 dogs and 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime — and similar tumor characteristics. As a result, some cancer therapies that were first developed for dogs are used to treat cancer in people.
Markel points to TomoTherapy, a method that 3-D scans a tumor and then delivers focused radiation, as a prime example of veterinary medical breakthroughs benefiting humans. The Food and Drug Administration made UW-Madison veterinarian researchers prove the technology could work first in animals.
“Now it’s one of the more common ways to treat cancer in people, and it was first developed here,” Markel said.
The next big breakthrough could come from a five-year clinical trial testing a vaccine to prevent various types of cancer in dogs; the results could inform a similar vaccine for people.
“This is like a tsunami of reach that nobody [was able] to do before,” Markel said of the commercial. Markel, the incoming president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said that though the ad focuses on UW-Madison, it is exciting for all veterinary programs.
“All of them know this is happening and that it’s incredibly unusual to reach that many people with this concept of how medicine benefits not only animal health but human health.” he said.
Markel predicted that veterinary schools might reap similar windfalls to UW-Madison as people increasingly value their pets as members of the family.
“When we have donors that want to give back to the school, it’s almost always our clients because they’re so appreciative of the care their animal received that may have saved or prolonged their life,” he said.