Why Have Online Ads Gone Puppy Mad?

Trends in online advertising aren’t always immediately obvious. Some months, brands will be favouring big budget celebrity endorsement, and others cheap-and-cheerful ‘prankverts’ will be in vogue. One week, humorous spots are the way to go and the next high drama is the only option.

However, the current trend taking online video sharing by storm couldn’t be less subtle if it tried. I’ll give you a clue: it’s fluffy, four-legged and so excited to see you.

That’s right, online advertising is currently so hyped up on puppies, pooches and poodles that it’s almost as if they didn’t exist six months ago. For proof of this miraculous trend, you only need to take a cursory scan of Unruly’s Viral Video Chart, where the most-shared rankings of the past few months may as well be covered in paw prints.

Let’s run through the major players. Back in late May, a little-known Argentine health charity quietly released a PSA about old age and organ donation. While it doesn’t immediately sound like the most attention-grabbing stuff, ‘The Man And The Dog’ has since been shared over 150,000 times.

Whether that sudden popularity was simply a hangover from early 2015’s penchant for ‘sadvertising’, or the ad’s striking resemblance to this classic ‘Futurama’ episode, since then the dogs have been well and truly been let out.

The next major victory for puppy power came in the unconventional form of a BuzzFeed video. In early June, the famed listicle-peddlers teamed up with pet food brand Purina to create a veritable hailstorm of adorableness called ‘Puppyhood’. A charming survey of the trials and tribulations faced by a new pet owner, the ad’s low-key humour and relatability have already garnered it nearly 3,000,000 shares.

You can read more of our thoughts on ‘Puppyhood’ here, but that number speaks for itself. In under two months, Purina’s spot has already secured its place in the top twenty most-shared ads of all time, prompting other brands to look for their own furry, lucrative friends to feature. Notable examples include Patagonia’s wonderful short film ‘Denali’, National Geographic’s hasty release of this little gem and Channel 4’s frankly surreal (but quite funny) new promotional material.

The greatest challenger to ‘Puppyhood’s miniature crown is Kleenex’s ‘Unlikely Best Friends’, an ad about disability and companionship, already shared a similarly impressive 1.2 million times. While it’s tempting to pit these ads against each other, gladiator-style, there’s no indication that viewers are tiring of this trend. So why are we so interested?

The obvious answer is that everyone finds puppies cute, but that doesn’t give these ads (or viewers) the credit they deserve. While it’s tempting to say that throwing a puppy into a video will take it viral instantly, that simply isn’t true. You don’t reach 1 million shares without nothing more than puppy eyes and a belly rub. (Okay that’s not always true).

While dogs currently seem to offer brands an easy marketing solution, there’s no universal reason why this should be the case. Why not pandas? Why not ducks? Why not all of them at the same time?

Taking a closer look at the most popular ads in the recent puppy craze, we find the characteristics that run through successful online video campaigns generally. ‘The Man And The Dog’ focuses on intense, high-spectrum emotions, while ‘Unlikely Best Friends’ tells an inspirational story, and ‘Puppyhood’ reproduces a relatable experience in wry, snappy fashion. Rather than being the magic ingredient for a successful campaign, dogs seem to provide a neutrally-charming canvas on which to paint larger stories.

Or perhaps the answer is that after years of feline obsession dominating the social web, man’s best friend is finally having its revenge.

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