When other networks ceded Super Bowl Sunday to football-obsessed sports fans, Animal Plant developed what is perhaps the most successful counter-programming stunt in TV history: “The Puppy Bowl,” now the second-highest rated TV show on Super Bowl Sundays. Yet the lingering question among Animal Planet executives was how to translate the “Puppy Bowl” formula into other events.
When it was time to plan this year’s holiday stunt, they found a perfect opportunity.
“[The previous theme] ‘Wild Winter Nights’ wasn’t specific to the brand, nor was it doing anything to leverage a time of year when people don’t traditionally watch TV,” says Jamie Duggar, VP, creative, Animal Planet. “We wanted to rename it ‘Super Cute Holiday Week,’ but shouldn’t that lead to something? And why wouldn’t it be something that’s super cute? Why not a Yule log? Or why not a super cute Yule log? I’m not kidding, about 48 hours later we were on the phone with Viewpoint making this happen.”
“We talked at the end of October, and in under two weeks it was pulled together,” says Dave Shilale, GM and EP, Viewpoint Creative, who directed the “Super Cute Yule Log” special.
Such a tight turnaround didn’t leave much time to line up sponsors, however, there was enough time to get Kmart and Nestle on board.
“We’re trying to lay the foundation for what might be a repeatable stunt year over year, so next year’s sponsors can get involved,” Duggar says. “Going into 2017, this will be a big piece of how we can talk about the potential to take what works for ‘Puppy Bowl’ and apply it to our new event.”
“Super Cute Yule Log” airs (and repeats) Christmas Day, following a two-week build-up with IDs, promos and spots culled from “Super Cute Yule Log” footage.
“We’ve also re-named our New Years [programming] ‘Hair of the Dog’—which will be dog programming all day long with IDs celebrating ‘Hair of the Dog Day’ taken from footage of the ‘Super Cute Yule Log.’ Pieces of the stunt are being sponsored, and it’s creating discussions with potential sponsors about next year,” Duggar says.
“We have an adorable puppy parade, and that’s a great opportunity for sponsors—they can sponsor one of the little wagons in the puppy parade,” says Julie Roger, senior writer and producer for Animal Planet. “There’s so much room for this to grow, and so many opportunities for sponsors.”
As for the special, Shilale and his team at Viewpoint—who turned four rooms in their Boston-area office into makeshift holding pens for puppies, kittens, bunnies, and baby goats on filming day—pored over hours of raw footage to edit together the show and several promo spots, including a 30-second spot that began airing this week and a 1-minute sneak peak to debut Christmas Eve.
“The challenge for us on the back end was for our editor because there was so much to choose from,” Shilale says. “How do you piece it all together into acts, and build the acts as the hour went on? Our editorial team did a phenomenal job.”
Animal Planet producer Joe Carey loves the result. “It’s almost like a less-is-more approach, letting the animals speak for themselves. That’s kind of what we’re doing with the spots for ‘Super Cute Yule Log.‘”
With limited time to promote the stunt, Animal Planet got creative. They got a billboard on New York’s Westside Highway, and saw the lack of time as an opportunity for the network’s digital platforms. After all, people love watching animal antics on their phones.
“For the ‘Yule Log,’ our digital team has been putting gifs online as a countdown to the stunt, using the ‘Cute’ footage,” Carey says. “Now that the stunt is underway, we’re counting down to the ‘Yule Log’ on Christmas morning. So we’re using the digital footage in many ways.”
A seamless version of “Super Cute Yule Log” was made available on digital platforms a week before Christmas. Duggar explains, “We wanted it to be like, ‘Here you go. Unwrap this.’”
Adds Roger, “If you’re having a holiday party that week it’s the perfect thing to put on in the background.”
To make sure people still tune in on Christmas Day, fake bumpers will announce what’s coming up next. And you can’t miss the “Pooper Bloopers.”
The entire thing is such a natural extension of Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” phenomenon that it’s left executives wondering why they hadn’t thought of it before. They’re just glad Viewpoint could turn the idea into reality so swiftly.
“I’m kind of floored a bit,” Duggar says. “I don’t know that we really thought we could pull it off, but Viewpoint didn’t hesitate when we got on the phone with them. They did it. It’s done. And we’re like ‘This already happened?’”