Animal Planet's mantra heading into the Puppy Bowl—its annual telecast featuring puppies playing football, held a few hours before the Super Bowl—is always, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. "We stick with what really works for us: putting puppies that are available for adoption up onscreen and letting them do their thing. That's been the secret sauce," said Jason Goldberg, vp, client and brand partnerships, Discovery Communications.
But for this year's Puppy Bowl XIII, which airs next Sunday, Feb. 5 at 3 p.m. ET, the network has partnered with sponsors to add a few new bells and whistles, including virtual reality and branded content.
Animal Planet and Pedigree are bringing VR to the Puppy Bowl for the first time, providing a "pup's-eye view" of the action via Buttons, one of the 78 adoptable puppies (from 34 animal shelters and rescue organizations nationwide) competing on "Team Ruff" and "Team Fluff."
VR "has been a corporate priority for us. We're one of the leading producers of VR content," said Goldberg, adding that the concept was a good fit with Pedigree, which has been sponsoring the Puppy Bowl for 12 years straight and was looking to "reinvigorate" its involvement.
"Every year, Animal Planet and ourselves have challenged each other to be more resonant and meaningful with what's happening in the world of media," said Melodie Bolin, Pedigree brand manager. When Animal Planet suggested VR, "we were so excited about it, because how cute is seeing everything through the eyes of a puppy on the field?"
The VR content is available via Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl hub page, YouTube, Discovery's VR apps and Facebook.
The two companies also partnered on a pair of branded content spots, showing a Rocky-style montage of the animals preparing for the Puppy Bowl. They are airing on Animal Planet and are also available on Animal Planet and Pedigree's social channels.
"We landed on the idea of replicating the iconic training scenes from Rocky, because it resonates so much culturally. We thought we could do that in a really cute way, and we couldn't be more thrilled with how they turned out," said Bolin.
For the first time, Pedigree has tapped NFL players to promote its Puppy Bowl involvement, enlisting Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice and former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray to promote the telecast on social media. "We've been trying to get a lot more involved in the social media space and trying to find ways that resonate with consumers for getting that out," said Bolin.
Also new to this year's Puppy Bowl is the Petco "Lombarky" trophy—Animal Planet's version of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, presented to the Super Bowl winner—which will go to the winning team. That came out of discussions between Petco, a new sponsor this year and Puppy Bowl's first retail sponsor, and Animal Planet about how to work a toy element into the telecast.
The other Puppy Bowl XIII sponsors include Bissell, Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal, Ro*Tel, Velveeta, Dairy Queen, Geico, Sheba and Subaru.
After 12 years, the Puppy Bowl has become "a pop culture phenomenon" for Discovery Communications, said Goldberg. "It also happens to be the second biggest franchise that we have within our portfolio behind Shark Week. So the network puts a lot of effort behind Puppy Bowl." With a one-hour pregame and repeats, the network will air 10 hours of Puppy Bowl coverage on Feb. 5.
Last year's telecast was the No. 2 show in its time slot on both broadcast and linear among adults 25-54, women 25-54 and women 18-49, behind only CBS's Super Bowl coverage. Animal Planet says 9.3 million unique total viewers watched the day's 12-hour Puppy Bowl marathon.