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The marketing strategy behind America's favorite puppy

The marketing strategy behind America's favorite puppy Mallory Russell

Since brands like Volkswagen and E*Trade started teasing out their campaigns about five year ago, the Super Bowl has grown from a single Sunday to an advertising season that stretches weeks before and after the game.

The benefits of pre-game seeding -- building excitement and awareness -- were seen early on, and brands adopted the strategy. According to Visible Measures' assessment of more than 200 Super Bowl advertisers and 350 different creative executions over the past five seasons, campaigns with pre-game content released before the game drove 175 percent higher viewership, on average, than campaigns that promoted the content on game day only. As a result, 75 percent of brand released Super Bowl content in advance of the game last year, an increase from 5 percent only four years earlier.

But there was a consensus that there wasn't as much pre-Super Bowl noise this January as we've seen in previous years. Was it a result of fewer auto brands advertising in this year's game? Or was it a bit of pre-game seeding backlash?

Maybe it was a little of both, but my hypothesis is that we have just experienced another shift in how brands are thinking about the Super Bowl. For most of the history of the game, all of the emphasis fell on the 30-second game day spot, and pre-game seeding could be as simple as a 15-second teaser or a longer cut of the spot. Now, the spot is just one piece of a more integrated content campaign.

Brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Toyota are thinking about their Super Bowl sponsorships as the chance to create full stories, which include video, native, and social amplification, and build a narrative to support that full-length game day spot. The new name of the Super Bowl game is extending consumer conversation by extending the storyline, not just releasing content further in advance of Super Bowl Sunday.

One of the best examples of this new Super Bowl outlook comes from Budweiser.

Budweiser was the No. 1 brand on the January iMedia Brands in Video chart, where it generated a True Reach of 58.7 million views during the month. More than 76 percent of that viewership was garnered by the brand's Super Bowl campaign, "Lost Dog," which was the most viewed campaign of the Super Bowl.

A sequel to "Puppy Love" -- the winner of Super Bowl XLVIII -- "Lost Dog" continues the story of an unlikely friendship between a golden retriever puppy and one of Budweiser's iconic Clydesdales. In the full-length spot, the cuddly puppy goes missing, while trying to tag along with his equine friend, and ends up in real danger. Try as you might, it's hard not to get choked up during this video, no thanks to the cover of The Proclaimer's "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" that plays under the story.

While the campaign generated 44.8 million views during the last week of January, it has now accumulated more than 61.9 million views, making it the third most-viewed Super Bowl campaign of all time.

The popularity of the campaign can be attributed to several factors:

  • There was anticipation. "Lost Dog" is the sequel to one of the biggest campaigns in Super Bowl history. Viewers were looking forward to seeing the next chapter in the story, which might be because the story stars an adorable puppy.

  • The content elicited emotion. Heartfelt emotion is one of the strongest drivers in the engagement and sharing of online video. "Lost Dog," like "Puppy Love" before it, has it in spades.

  • There was controversy. Budweiser's spot was not controversial. But GoDaddy.com released its Super Bowl ad, a spoof of "Lost Dog," on the same day as Budweiser, and it certainly was controversial. GoDaddy's ad was promptly pulled after viewers complained about GoDaddy.com's twist, which inferred that the puppy was from a puppy mill. That controversy drove headlines, which seems to have helped Budweiser more than it helped GoDaddy.com.

  • The brand used new platforms effectively. Budweiser's use of Facebook as a platform contributed greatly to its viewership. The most-viewed asset of Budweiser's "Lost Dog" campaign was the full-length spot, and more than 50 percent of those views were garnered from the brand's video on its Facebook page, where the brand ran almost all of its teaser material as well.

In addition to all of these factors, though, Budweiser was one of those brands that thought not only about the Super Bowl spot, but also about the whole story of America's favorite puppy. The brand started building the "Lost Dog" story long before it released the full video online. It released teasers -- both videos and images -- on Facebook that generated interest in the idea that the puppy was lost. There were behind-the-scenes videos of the adorable puppies running around the set. Budweiser even extended the story offline, posting "lost dog" posters on the streets of major cities.

While all of those extra tactics -- native, video, social, and promotion -- might not have driven as much viewership as the feature Super Bowl spot, they did help to create a deeper level of engagement in the brands' Super Bowl stories. And, at the end of the day, it is engagement that creates affinity and loyalty in consumers and moves business.

Mallory Russell is content editor at Visible Measures.

iMedia's Top 10 Brands in Video chart, powered by Visible Measures, focuses on aggregated brand view counts across related social video ad campaigns. Each brand and campaign is measured on a True Reach basis, which includes viewership of both brand-syndicated and audience-driven video clips. The data are compiled using the patented Visible Measures platform, a constantly growing repository of analytic data on close to 400 million videos tracked across more than 300 online video destinations.

Note: This analysis does not include Visible Measures' paid-placement (e.g., overlays; pre-, mid-, and post-roll) performance data or video views on private sites. This chart does not include movie trailers, video game campaigns, TV show, or media network promotions. View counts are incremental by month.

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Mallory Russell is the Director of Content for Visible Measures. Prior to joining Visible Measures, Mallory wrote for Advertising Age and Business Insider. She also spent a few years in the San Francisco ad business at DraftFCB and Goodby,...

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