Elanco: Parasite Poster - Signal Theory

Elanco: Parasite Poster

Turning a small mistake into a big engagement opportunity for Elanco.

Graphic icon of an outline of a head – inside that is a brain with a keyhole in it.Parasites are a preventable cause of disease in dogs. However, because of the ostrich effect (aka a head-in-the-sand, “not my dog” mentality), pet owners may believe their pets are safe from the threats that surround them every day. We needed to show them how very much at risk their buddy is.


Vet office waiting room with Parasite Poster hanging on wall while a dog owner and their dog sit while another one carries their small dog.




Veterinary clinics are filled with marketing materials vying for a pet owner’s attention. So when Signal Theory was tasked with creating an educational poster around parasite risk, we wanted to do something we knew would create engagement.

Image of little dog looking at an illustrated poster.


We leaned into a basic but satisfying cognitive process called visual search. In visual search, an observer  looks for a target in  a crowd of distractors. If you’ve ever done a word search or played Where’s Waldo, you’re familiar with the concept. In most cases, these puzzles are rapidly and satisfyingly resolved.


To educate pet owners on all the threats their dogs could be exposed to in their daily interactions, the team created a fun and engaging illustrated puzzle that included a myriad of parasite threats to be searched out and found, including six squirrels.

Can you spot the everyday parasite threats?
Illustration of dogs mingling in park. Dog in center digs a hole..
Illustration of dogs mingling in park. Dog in center sniffs another's rear-end.
Illustration of dogs mingling in park. Dog in center dragging his bottom on the grass.


As printing drew close, the roadkill squirrel was deemed a little too odious to include and was removed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t removed from the key.

By omitting this sixth squirrel, this “simple” puzzle then accidentally engaged the endowed progress effect, where because of the investment already made, the brain literally cannot quit until the puzzle is solved. (And why you see progress bars in many online surveys.)

Because of the endowed progress effect and the amount of time already invested in finding the five squirrels, as well as all the other listed threats, clinic staff searched tirelessly for that sixth squirrel to complete their task.


The accidental omission of the sixth squirrel in the puzzle resulted in multiple calls from clinic staff driven to find that final rodent.

“We have been searching for weeks. We need to know where that dang thing is!”

Detail from large poster of illustrated squirrel holding a nut.

To turn frustration into reward, Signal Theory creatively worked to right the error by mailing each clinic that reached out a stuffed branded “Sixth Squirrel,” thanking them for their engagement with the poster and for displaying it prominently in their clinics. This out-of-the box touch allowed Elanco to form a closer bond with its clinical audience.




Visual search creates engagement


Endowed progress effect keeps engagement active through completion


By owning mistakes, brands can capitalize on the pratfall effect to surprise and delight – and can even make your brand even more “human” and likable

Detail from poster: You can find threats from harmful parasites almost anywhere.
Two people smiling and interacting with seek and find poster
Keep pets protected with year-round parasite protection

Oval button with this text: Connect with Signal Theory

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