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What Pets Can Teach Us About Blockbuster Content Marketing

Diane Silver By Diane Silver

If you live in one of the 79 million American households owned by a pet,* (and even if you don’t) you’ve likely been touched in some way or other from the internet’s love affair with cute, cuddly, crazy, and even animated pets.

Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, creators of The Secret Life of Pets, took full advantage of America’s pet obsession when it started teasing the film on social media more than a year before its launch.

Who can resist images and videos of adorable animated pets revealing what it is they do when their humans aren’t around? The original teaser trailer collected 20 million views, with millions more to follow from the many photos and videos shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

The result? After a year filled with countless posts, shares, and follows of the film’s pre-launch content, the widely anticipated film opened with a record-setting $103 million, the strongest opening weekend ever for an original film according to studio estimates and Wall Street Journal reports.

So what can we learn from The Secret Life of Pets?

Marketers are challenged every day to deliver meaningful content across a variety of channels—content that consumers care about and that inspire them to connect with a brand.

Here are a few lessons learned from the insane amount of awareness and success garnered by The Secret Life of Pets.

Know your audience and give them what they care about

According to the American Pet Products Association, $62.75 billion will be spent by pet owners on their pets in 2016 alone. Combine the trend of the humanization of pets with the amount we’re willing to spend on them, and the formula for creating and sharing delightful pet stories like The Secret Life of Pets is a win-win for everyone. Any brand can win by understanding what its target audience cares deeply about and then creating a reason for them to want to belong to that brand, ultimately driving a profitable customer connection.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

In an industry dominated by action-packed adaptations and sequels, The Secret Life of Pets used humor and terrific animation to capture the attention of millions of consumers. Trying something new with brave, fearless thinking may lead you to the next big thing.

Choose the right partners for cross-category promotions, including the expected and unexpected

The Secret Life of Pets has almost 100 partners—delivering close to $400 million in promotional value—supported by multi-media marketing campaigns powered by television, digital, and print advertising; significant retail exposure; social and influencer campaigns; and live events.

The cross-category program includes a global activation with McDonald’s and promotions with top household names including the Chrysler brand, General Mills, P&G, Mott’s, PetSmart, and The J.M. Smucker Company, as well as breakthrough partnerships with innovative brands like GoPro and

You might expect a brand like PetSmart to jump on board. And it has. As the exclusive pet specialty retailer for The Secret Life of Pets, PetSmart is executing a “store takeover” campaign featuring the film’s lovable characters in more than 1,400 stores throughout North America and on and other digital platforms. The Secret Life of Pets campaign includes advertising that features custom-to-PetSmart animation and assets across television, print, and digital, as well as social engagement programs.

What you might not expect is a first-of-its-kind partnership with GoPro, known for its action-packed extreme sports ideology and the awesome views of the world that it delivers. But once you think about it, this makes total sense, because it’s not at all surprising to think that pets can capture and edit GoPro content better than their humans. How else do you think pets have taken over the internet?

GoPro has debuted an immersive two-minute custom animated short co-created with Illumination Entertainment and featuring The Secret Life of Pets imitating the most extreme real-life adventures.  After all, who doesn’t love a bungee-jumping pug who bounces back from a death-defying leap off a New York City high-rise with the ultimate reward: a juicy New York style street hot dog.

The content is being distributed on GoPro’s social media channels and established community of influencers. Extreme athletes move over. Now pets and their humans will add GoPro to their must-have lists to capture every one of Fido and Fluffy’s magic moments.

Create original, relevant content and deliver it with consistency

The creators of The Secret Life of Pets got it right when they created its cast of characters with talking dogs, cats, and other animals in all shapes and sizes. Starting with its original teaser trailer more than one year before launch, the film’s creators and its partners continue to deliver new, engaging content almost daily.

So in the end, no matter what kind of product or service you’re marketing, create content that your customers will care about deeply and that they’ll find relevant and valuable. And, taking a cue from the dogs in The Secret Life of Pets, be loyal, tenacious, and brave in your actions, and your humans (or customers) will always be there when you need them.

Haven’t gotten enough of The Secret Life of Pets? No need to worry. Building on its tremendous success, Universal Pictures has announced its sequel: The Secret Life of Pets 2 will bark its way into theaters on July 13, 2018.

*Sixty-five percent of US households, or about 79.7 million families, own a pet, according to the 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).