Inside PetSmart’s TAILgate Tour: Human-sized Hamster Wheels and Pet ‘Trading Cards’

Petsmart_MVPets 2023_trading card

Pet parents could create custom MVPets “trading cards” online and on-site at retail activations.

How PetSmart turned a local sponsorship into a 360-degree national campaign

We all think our pets are the best in the world—and we’re all right. It’s a sentiment PetSmart tapped into leading up to the Super Bowl in a season-long campaign aimed at fueling the connection between consumers’ love of pets and their passion for football.

As a sponsor of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, but not the big game itself, the Arizona-based brand launched a local and regional sponsorship anchored by digital “trading cards” that let parents rightfully claim their pets as MVPs: Most Valuable Pets. The program ultimately turned into a fully integrated national campaign under an “MVPets” umbrella that resulted in digital and in-person interactions with tens of thousands of consumers.

According to PetSmart’s research, more than one-third of pet parents are also major sports fans, so the brand left no stone unturned when it came to finding creative ways to engage with the crossover audience throughout the 2022-2023 NFL season. The brand activated a 30-stop mobile tour, a 5K-9 Fun Run, an anamorphic billboard in downtown Phoenix, volunteer events, influencer partnerships, digital extensions, an adoption component and airport branding before closing with a bang through a wide-ranging presence at the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee Experience at Hance Park during Super Bowl weekend. Phew.

scramble-3_barstool sports_super bowl 57_teaserMore Super Bowl 57 Activations:

“Taking a local sponsorship national required us to ensure that our local market messaging could be easily transferred to the national stage without losing the spirit or meaning of the campaign,” says Will Smith, svp and cmo at PetSmart. “As marketers, we love finding efficiencies and multiple uses for content and experiential activations, and this allowed us to repurpose what we knew was a winning approach to reach an even wider audience without having to reinvent the wheel.”

A cornerstone of the campaign was the microsite, where facial recognition technology allowed consumers to upload a photo of their pet—be it a dog, cat, lizard, goat or other critter—and create a digital MVPets trading card. Users had a full selection of team jerseys, colors and graphics to choose from, and naturally, the option to share the final product on social. Each pet uploaded to the site was also integrated into a pet mosaic that appeared on the website, as well as screens within PetSmart’s footprint at the Host Committee’s multi-day fan fest.

The cards also took physical shape during stops along the MVPets TAILgate tour, which hit PetSmart store parking lots in states across the southwest. Pet parents were invited to create their digital pet trading card, which brand ambassadors then printed on-site and delivered to them with a lanyard attached.

Petsmart_MVPets 2023_Mobile Tour Unit

The tour featured a mobile unit equipped with a different “tail” depending on the weather (hard for rain, fluffy for sun).

The setup also included an obstacle course that fused football skills and pet activities, like a “40-yard dash” inside a human-sized hamster wheel, a high jump and a cat-like reflexes game. Consumers additionally had the opportunity to meet adoptable pets within their community—but the brand didn’t stop there. It also donated $1 per custom trading card to its PetSmart Charities nonprofit, which serves as the largest financial supporter of animal welfare in North America.

The strategy was similar at the MVPets experience during Super Bowl weekend, where plenty of participants rocked their trading card lanyards, providing PetSmart with a flood of visibility in a sea of brands. One exclusive perk of engaging with the brand at the Super Bowl Experience, however, was that fans could get their hands on a limited-edition, collectable Proof of Attendance NFT to “memorialize” their participation.

When the campaign wrapped, tails were wagging across the board. Around 200,000 MVPets cards were created and approximately 650 million social media impressions were generated. To boot, the tour and season-long OOH components generated more than 356 million impressions, with PetSmart reporting significant in-store traffic as a result of the in-person activations alone.

“Pets are all about connection, about relationships, and there’s a real sense of community in that,” Smith says. “Our experiential marketing strategies allow us to bring pet parents together to bond over our shared obsession with pets… It makes them feel even more connected to PetSmart, which is critical to building loyalty and lifetime relationships.” Agencies: Activent (creative, production); MoZeus Worldwide (technology).

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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