3 Marketing Lessons From Sunday’s OTHER Big Game


We’ve all been there. That time you see someone else do a difficult task you have done a gazillion times and he or she makes it look easy with one clever trick. Or the moment you get the “why didn’t I think of that?” feeling when you observe a new idea or process?

The majority of television producers feel like this every year when they're trying to figure out a way to hold on to viewership during the Super Bowl, a daunting task. They need to put something on and can’t just go radio silent. Well, one big thinker at Animal Planet figured it out with the whimsical alternative to football’s biggest game – the Puppy Bowl!

The starting lineup

The annual Puppy Bowl features a number of puppies from animal shelters across the country playing in a small, fake football stadium for hours. With an emphasis on pet adoption, most of the furry competitors find homes before the show even airs. And that, folks, is the magic of television.

In 2005, the first Puppy Bowl was simply a 12-hour montage of puppies romping throughout the stadium with no audience. Camera crews filmed the chaos as the puppies play with toys, and each other, a few channels down the dial. The Puppy Bowl had no commentary nor sponsor ads. But it was enough to get nearly 5.6 million viewers to watch at some point during the airing.

Now making big bones  

Fast forward 13 years and the Puppy Bowl now has more than 12 million viewers and Animal Planet has successfully sold nearly every inch of the field to advertisers such as Pedigree, Bissell vacuums, Geico and Subaru. It's added a referee, a model blimp, rabbits and guinea pig cheerleaders, an African gray parrot named Meep who tweets about the game from the sidelines, a “Kiss Cam” and a kitty halftime show. And what sporting event would be complete without an MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) award?

Teaching us old dogs new tricks

So why am I rambling on about the Puppy Bowl? Because it’s fascinating that, with all the hoopla of the Super Bowl, some of the best marketing is on a completely different channel! Though it started as simply a cute counterprogramming stunt, the Puppy Bowl shows that no idea is too big, too stupid or too cute. The right idea can work, even up against a juggernaut like the Super Bowl. How?

  1. Find that niche audience – Don’t be intimated by the competition, no matter how big. While the Super Bowl is the most watched television event in the world, there are still potential viewers for something like the Puppy Bowl. According to Nielsen, there are 115.6 million TV viewers in the United States and 112.2 watched the 2016 Super Bowl. That leaves 3.4 million available viewers! By creating a compelling alternative for a certain niche, the Puppy Bowl reaches millions of viewers while adding some big-time sponsorships.

  2. Discover that emotional connection – Many of us recognize that pets are part of the family – and everyone loves a good adoption story. Giving an audience an opportunity to be part of something with a tangible benefit is an excellent way to engage with an audience.

  3. Grow through innovation – While it was simple in the beginning, the Puppy Bowl has turned into a tailwagging spectacle. You can now draft the ultimate Puppy Bowl fantasy team, check out player profiles online and enjoy the newest addition of virtual reality and branded content spots. The Puppy Bowl will also be presenting the first-ever Lombarky Trophy that's shaped like a fire hydrant. Animal Planet has innovated and made improvements each year, adding new features to recapture its audience annually.  

So don’t be afraid to try something big, or adorable! Some experiments and tactics may fail, but that doesn’t mean all will. Of course, if you’re looking for some help on discovering your next BIG THING, give WhiteSpace a call. (We even have experience promoting four-legged friends!) We’d be happy to lend a paw! 


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