Tinder for dogs: The tech looking to connect Kiwis with potential pets

A new app developed by Mars New Zealand is looking to connect rescue dogs with potential owners. Photo / Supplied

A piece of homegrown tech set is hoping to make it easier to match rescue dogs with suitable owners.

The brainchild of the marketing team at Mars New Zealand and ad agency Colenso BBDO, the MyHooman app will function similarly to popular dating apps like Tinder.

But rather than matching potential love birds, the app will connect Kiwis looking for a pet with rescue dogs in their vicinity.

The purpose here is two-fold: firstly to collate the rescue organisations on a single platform, and secondly, to gives dog lovers a place to see all the pooches looking for homes.

The platform also goes a step further by using artificial intelligence and smart matching algorithms to ensure people are only matched with pets that are suited to their families.

Input from rescue organisations during the 18-month development enabled the app designers to identify and eliminate pain points experienced by rescue volunteers.

Louise Burgess, a shelter manager at Last Lampost Dog and Rescue, has already given the app a whirl and says she is optimistic about how much time it could potentially save those working at shelters.

“Last week I registered a new rescue Bella to MyHooman,” says Burgess.

“I took her photo, shared some details about her background and personality and the platform detected her breed and wrote her an adoption profile. These features free up shelter managers like me to focus on the dogs.”

Burgess adds that existing platforms haven’t been made with rescue organisations in mind and therefore don’t make their jobs easier.

“A lot of my time is spent on paperwork, keeping track of medical treatment and vaccination due dates for each dog as well as creating adoption profiles for Facebook and Trademe, so I’m really enjoying having all this centralised on MyHooman.”

The app uses AI to match dogs with suitable owners. Image / Supplied
The app uses AI to match dogs with suitable owners. Image / Supplied

Mars New Zealand general manager Pete Simmons says he hopes to see the app play a role in reducing the number of dogs that are returned to shelters after they’re adopted.

“About one in five dogs that are adopted every year are returned, so what we’re also trying to do is create a better match between dogs and owners,” says Simmons.

“Often people might walk into a shelter and fall in love with a particular, only to realise later that that dog isn’t well suited to their lifestyle. We’re hoping that by sharing more information earlier on, we can get better matches when marrying up dogs with owners.”

Matching with a dog, be it by algorithm or personal choice, does not, however, mean that you’ll automatically get to take the dog home. Much like in any courting process, you’ll first have to meet your canine suitor and the rescue organisation will work to determine whether you’re a suitable candidate for the dog.

The insight behind the app and the approach will no doubt lead to interest, but the cynic might ask whether this is just piece another piece of marketing for a giant pet food company.

Simmons doesn’t shy away from describing the app as part of the company’s marketing efforts but adds that the company wants to do more than just make another ad.

“We consider ourselves more than a pet food company, we’re a petcare company,” says the Mars boss.

“We’re really interested in creating a better world for pets and we do that in a lot of ways around the world, including animal hospitals, as well as creating nutrition and food products. As part of that, we also want to help end pet homelessness – and we realised over the past 10 years that if we wanted to make an impact, we’re going to have to do it in a very different way to your standard marketing and advertising.”

This underlying ambition has bled into some of the most audacious tech ideas that Mars and Colenso BBDO have worked on in recent years.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Previously, the pair developed an interactive app designed to teach kids about dog safety; a digital tool designed to help Kiwis find their lost pets; a quirky app that allows Kiwis to be matched with their canine doppelganger; as well as a so-called child replacement programme that was designed to encourage empty nesters to replace their uni-bound kids with a pet.

The interesting creative work being developed in New Zealand has also caught the eye of Mars at a global level, with Colenso BBDO collaborating on a US campaign last year that saw more than 100,000 bespoke ads dedicated to specific dogs publicly registered in New York.

Simmons says is optimistic that the latest bit of local ingenuity will also be noticed and rolled out internationally. He says this is just one of the many ways Kiwi thinking can be exported internationally.

While the approach adopted by Mars makes for some interesting marketing opportunities, there’s always an element of risk that comes into play with technology. On one hand, an idea popular at launch could quickly just fizzing away and end up forgotten by most.

An example of the former might be Mars’ Found app, which was based on the strong idea of helping dog owners find their lost pets. The app was widely praised at first, but it’s not used very regularly any more and people have since reverted back to the tried and trusted flyers.

Simmons doesn’t view Found as a complete failure, saying that lessons have been learnt from the experiments run in the past.

“Some of the technology we’ve developed over time has gone into this and also helped us to understand what some of the tensions are for potential dog owners.”

The other risk that lingers over any tech initiative is that it quickly evolves into a beast that no one anticipated. This can sometimes become more dangerous than an app that isn’t noticed at all.

The danger then the tech is used in some way that doesn’t match with the initial intentions of the developers.

That, however, is a bridge that Mars will potentially have to cross only after the app goes to market in December.

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