How the Puppy Bowl Became a Marketing Juggernaut

Jan 28, 2020

The Puppy Bowl started out as a joke.

Fifteen years ago, Animal Planet execs were discussing the seemingly impossible task of coming up with programming that could compete with the Super Bowl. Producer Margo Kent told Rolling Stone the team wasn’t optimistic. “Let’s just put a box of puppies up there and call it a day. It’s not worth trying to go against the Super Bowl.”

Millions of viewers, dozens of advertising partnerships and countless adopted puppies later, the Puppy Bowl is the most successful Super Bowl counterprogramming today.

A History of Puppy Bowl’s Marketing Efforts

The Puppy Bowl was a hit from the start (and even boasted Harry Kalas as a commentator until his death in 2009). But it’s expanded significantly over the years and now takes up almost a full day of programming. There’s a pre-game show and a “where are they now” segment of past Puppy Bowl stars.

The whole production is a much larger undertaking than many realize. Seventy-some dogs, a couple dozen cameras and a lot of wet wipes are involved over two days of shooting that actually takes place in October or November.

The game itself has added new aspects over the years as well, including a halftime show with kittens, animal cheerleaders, cameos from animal celebs like Keyboard Cat and a bird offering live “tweets.”

Through it all, the Puppy Bowl has stayed true to its commitment to helping boost adoptions, showcasing special needs dogs and rescue operations from places affected by natural disasters. 

Image via The Wrap.

The Rise of Puppy Bowl’s Advertising Impact

As the game has grown, it’s become an advertising juggernaut of its own. It takes place at GEICO “stadium,” which is covered with ads for other national brands. Dairy Queen sponsors the show’s Kiss Cam.

This year, as much of the nation watches the Kansas City Chiefs take on of San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, millions will tune into Team Fluff vs. Team Ruff in Puppy Bowl 2020. 

What started as a throwaway response to an insurmountable challenge has since become a major part of Animal Planet’s marketing efforts. So much so that Puppy Bowl sponsors are required to buy advertising on other programming. Thanks to the network’s ability to recognize opportunity and scale up the event, the Puppy Bowl has really become the Super Bowl of programming for Animal Planet.

Long story short: Sometimes, good marketing is less about strategic campaigns and well-developed ideas and more about finding smart ways to build on what’s working, even if that just means showing more cute puppies. 

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