In their words, with Animal Planet’s Sarah McMurdy

This year, to promote the 10th annual Puppy Bowl, Animal Planet partnered with House Party to throw thousands of parties around the country on the day of the game (in what would prove to be an award-winning campaign). We sat down with Animal Planet’s Sarah McMurdy to discuss how House Party fit with the brand’s overall marketing mix and how word of mouth and consumer content help to make the Puppy Bowl such a consistent hit.


“Social TV” is all the rage these days, usually involving live-tweeting, second-screen apps and other ways for people to engage digitally with TV programming. But this House Party campaign gave your fans a chance to extend their experience offline, with friends and family. What attracted you to the idea? And how did it fit in with your views of social TV?

The Puppy Bowl has always been far more social than your average TV program; it’s fun and unique and something that people naturally want to talk about. This year we wanted to take advantage of that with a holistic marketing approach that engaged fans and got them talking everywhere: online, offline, at special events like our Times Square takeover, and in their own homes, through House Party. Social TV is often thought of too narrowly, as (like you said) live-tweeting or maybe using a branded app, but we wanted Puppy Bowl X to be as social as possible, with more people talking more often in more places. The Puppy Bowl VIP House Party was a key pillar of that, since it activated our biggest fans in their own homes on the big day itself, giving them a unique viewing experience and the tools to share it with friends and family.


The Puppy Bowl VIP House Party generated a ton of great photos and videos, both on the House Party site and across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. How important is user-generated content (UGC) to your overall marketing strategy?

We love to see original photos of our fans — and their pups — and to find ways to share that content with the community at large. And the great thing is, each successive year seems to bring more digital tools that help them capture and share their Puppy Bowl experiences. This year, over 150,000 viewers posted photos of how they were watching the Puppy Bowl using the #PuppyBowl hashtag, and we shared some of the best ones on air, during commercial breaks throughout the day. The Puppy Bowl VIP House Party generated some of the most compelling content of all (shared with the #PuppyBowlParty tag), since it brought thousands of fans together and — through the Party Pack and party favors — gave them branded props and items to spice up their photos.


One of the best things about your campaign was that you were able to involve some of your premium on-air sponsors (TWIZZLERS and Bissell), which made the Party Pack more compelling and exposed more consumers to those brands. How did you decide to do this? What value did it offer these sponsors?

This was sort of a win-win-win: those sponsors got increased trial and awareness, hosts and guests got a more robust Party Pack (and thus had better parties), and we got a stronger campaign. We were also able to integrate Bissell into a sweepstakes in which House Party participants tweeted photos of their parties for a chance to win VIP Party Packs, an iPad mini or one of five Bissell SpotBot Pet Deep Cleaners. The Puppy Bowl is a strong brand, and we could have had a great party by keeping the focus there, but people love TWIZZLERS and Bissell, too, and their inclusion helped make the overall campaign even better than the sum of those component parts.