Nat Geo, Petco Unleash 'Dr. Phil for Dogs’

When Cesar Millan, host of National Geographic Channel’s Dog Whisperer appeared earlier this year at a Petco pet supply store in New York City, over 600 people and their pets turned out to meet this “Dr. Phil for dogs.”

What followed during the next three weeks was a classic joint marketing and promotions effort aimed at leveraging the strength of Nat Geo’s popular series and host, along with the advertising and marketing clout of Petco Animal Supplies Inc. and its nearly 800 retail stores.

“We took an organic idea and integrated it across all platforms, linking the show with a great partner, Petco,” National Geographic Channel senior vice president of marketing Kiera Hynninen said. “Our promotions began one week before our [second] season premier of Dog Whisperer and extended into February.”

The result, according to Hynninen, “was an 88% increase in viewership over the same two-month time period the previous year, and a 59% household increase, mainly in our key 25-54 year-old demographic. It was a tremendous success.”

The campaign’s genesis, and what really drove it, was Nat Geo’s long advertising partnership with Petco, according to Hynninen, with the entire effort being an outgrowth of that relationship. “Petco wanted to expand the relationship with NGC, and we felt we needed to move the Dog Whisperer series to primetime Friday nights at 8 p.m. New York was a very important market for us both, so that’s where we wanted to try out the partnership with the in-store promotion with [Millan].”

Outside the store, mobile pet service Pet Chauffeur offered free services, while eight street teams canvassed the area handing out goody bags containing a variety of pet supplies and Dog Whisperer promotional materials. “There was lots of passion among the pet owners and great curb appeal with the in-store appearance of [Millan],” Hynninen said.

“I was absolutely surprised, and very grateful for the number of people who stood out in the cold to actually come and see me, get my autograph and talk about their pets,” said Millan. “It was very humbling, and I will never forget it.”

Just as vital to the overall collaborative marketing campaign were the retail-based promotions that coincided with the Manhattan in-store promotion. They were held across Petco’s 781 locations nationwide and consisted of in-store signage and radio promotions, along with other key promotional elements.

“Strategically, the national exposure on NGC was a real hot button with our local stores and their branding,” said Don Cowan, director of communications for Petco. “The campaign provided impressions, reach and frequency via NGC, and we built out from the Manhattan store.”

According to Cowan, the collaborative marketing concept will continue to build on the success of the campaign, while adding a new dimension to the company’s strategic marketing plans.

“It opened us up to some new learning we hadn’t thought about — the concept of tying back in-store appearances to local stores to drive traffic,” he said.

Following the success of the Nat Geo/Petco campaign, the giant pet supply company is seriously considering similar collaborative marketing campaigns. “We’d do it again. It’s a very interesting concept,” Cowan said.

Nat Geo is already looking ahead to similar efforts with other clients. “We’ve had several discussions on how to take this model to other clients and are actively looking at relationships that make sense,” Hynninen said. “We also want to expand our relationship with Petco.”

According to Hynninen, taking the collaborative marketing model to the next level will require the inclusion of several internal disciplines — including public relations, ad sales and advertising. “How do we take this model to other clients? We’ve had serious discussions about that,” she said. “It’s a complete internal effort with the programming group and how it links to ad sales and other disciplines.”

Much of the success of the Nat Geo/Petco campaign, she added, was due to the collaboration between those internal groups. “We worked closely with ad sales, consumer marketing, digital media with one goal.”

That goal, she said, was to not only drive people to Nat Geo’s Web site and to the campaign’s sweepstakes, but increase viewership, along with helping its partner, Petco, drive traffic to its local stores nationwide.

“From a pure local store marketing perspective, it was very successful and gives us a sense that this kind of activity could be very successful in building local traffic,” said Cowan.