It may be inconceivable to the millions of football fans who will be glued to their TVs on Sunday, but cable channel Animal Planet has been capitalizing upon an audience that prizes puppies over pigskin for a decade.
This year, in addition to a slew of interactive content from Animal Planet to engage the anti-Super-Bowl and/or pro-dog crowd, CarMax, which calls itself the nation's largest retailer of used cars, says it is "getting in on the fluffy fun" by recreating its big game ad with "an all-furry cast for an online version."
CarMax's Super Bowl ad, or what it calls its human "Slow Clap" commercial, follows a CarMax customer as he leaves with the perfect car. While driving around town, he receives slow claps from "various interesting characters applauding his choice to start at CarMax," the brand says.
It was perhaps loosely inspired by the 1993 movie Rudy, which includes a slow clap scene, and includes a cameo by actor Sean Astin, who played the title character.
The brand's online-only puppy ad is a "four-legged replica of the human storyline" in which claps are replaced by barks.
According to a rep, a 30-second version of the "Slow Clap" video is scheduled to air in the second quarter of the Super Bowl during the third commercial break.
"It's a simple concept. It's all about celebrating the customer that is the true hero at CarMax every day," says Laura Donahue, CarMax's vice president of creative marketing and advertising. "Thinking through ad concepts for the Super Bowl, the slow clap resonated with us because it's a focus on celebrating the customer and it has an iconic cultural resonance associated with sports."
The official hashtags for the ads are #slowbark and #slowclap.
@CarMax has 31,000 followers and 94,000 fans.
"We had been planning the Slow Clap for quite some time and to ramp up excitement for the ad and to showcase the ad, we thought that if there's a puppy version of the game, why not be the first advertiser to do a puppy version of a big game commercial?" Donahue says.
In addition, she says CarMax has about 130 superstores in 64 markets, including 13 new locations this fiscal year and 10 to 15 planned for the next fiscal year "in markets where there isn't a CarMax nearby."
"We're excited about the Super Bowl as a way to build awareness and get [consumers] talking about the brand," she adds.
Meanwhile, Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl is getting more interactive this year as the network aims to creative an atmosphere akin to a virtual viewing party.
That party could have a sizable guest list. Last year's Puppy Bowl garnered a record 12.4 million viewers, according to the network.
Animal Planet says Puppy Bowl returns to Geico Stadium this year to "celebrate a very special anniversary in a championship battle for cuteness and barking rights" on February 2 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET/PT. It will repeat with new content every hour for a total of six two-hour segments.
All six airings will have different endings, as fans vote in real time for which puppy will take home the title of Bissell MVP, or Most Valuable Puppy. In order to vote, fans can visit AnimalPlanet.com/PuppyBowlMVP on game day. The poll goes live at 3 p.m. ET.
Winners will be announced in the fourth quarter, says Grace Suriel, social media director at Animal Planet. This marks the first time Animal Planet is incorporating interactive alternate endings in which different puppies could be crowned MVP, which she describes as "one big interactive viewing party."
The 2014 Puppy Bowl includes 66 "rambunctious pups from the Pedigree Starting Lineup."
This year, Animal Planet is also sponsoring a Fantasy Puppy League on the Puppy Bowl website, including the network's first-ever fantasy draft in which fans can view profiles of 11 all-star players and "create their team of fierce and fuzzy competitors in advance of the big game."
On Sunday, fantasy leaguers can keep track of how their dogs are doing with live stat updates on screen and via a leaderboard online, Animal Planet says.
What's more, Internet star Keyboard Cat will be starring in the Xtraordinary Bissell Kitty Half-Time Show, where he will perform a rock rendition of Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" and Animalist's Lil Bub will also check in throughout the game from Chicago.
On Sunday, the brand is also asking viewers to submit photos on Instagram with the hashtag #puppybowl for a chance to see themselves and/or their pets during the broadcast. According to Suriel, this will run from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., which means viewers "have plenty of time and opportunities to be on the air."
Again, she likens it to a viewing party, saying fans "feel integrated and involved and we can see dogs and cats watching and if parties are going on. There are thousands [of parties] from what I understand. It's a great way to integrate fans."
The event also features a "sideline reporter," @MeepTheBird, who provides live updates and commentary. Meep has 26,000 followers.
In addition to pushing the #PuppyBowl and #KittyHalftimeShow hashtags, each puppy has a hashtag with his or her name.
"It's great to see how people get so involved in the puppies," Suriel says, "After seeing the game for 10 minutes, they have chosen a favorite and advocate for that puppy [by using the puppy's hashtag]."
Additional Puppy Bowl sponsors include Subaru of America, Twizzlers, AT&T, Mohawk Flooring, Chase Freedom, and Disney's Muppets Most Wanted.
All of the puppies and kittens featured in Puppy Bowl X come from shelters and rescue groups, including Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA, Florida Little Dog Rescue, Colorado Animal Welfare League, Last Hope Animal Rescue, Scottsville Veterinary Hospital and Adoptions, and Animal Care and Control of NYC.
Animal Planet has also created "Puppy Bowl Adoption Stories," a digital series that tells viewers where puppies end up and gives them a glimpse into their new homes, Suriel says.
Puppy Bowl X is produced for Animal Planet by Discovery Studios.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
March 19, 2014