Brands

Puppy Love: Inside Purina’s Ambitious New Content Play

Life with a new puppy is tons of fun. It’s also a frustrating series of trials and errors. Purina, the pet food company, is learning that launching a new content site isn’t much different.

Its new content site was launched with “Puppyhood,” a Purina/BuzzFeed video collaboration that racked up 4 million views in two weeks. The video does an excellent (and adorable) job of illustrating both sides—good and bad—of the new puppy experience. The end of the video directs the viewer to the new site, also called Puppyhood, for “all things puppy.”

The ad is undeniably cute, and the views and likes show that others agree. The site it’s promoting? Like the eponymous puppy, it has its good and bad sides.

Good puppy: Purina’s great concept

According to Purina, Puppyhood sprang from the desire to be a trusted resource for new puppy parents.

“We are very lucky to have an army of some of the top scientists and experts around pet care working with us,” said Marcus Fong, brand manager for Purina, “and we wanted to be able to pass that knowledge around proper puppy raising to puppy owners everywhere.”

It’s a noble concept. Financial services brands have found great success in leveraging their in-house expertise to become educational resources for consumers. Put simply, helpful content is valuable content.

We’ve covered our share of canine content here at The Content Strategist, and bringing the idea of being a genuine resource in a world full of cutesy-patootsie puppy stories—which don’t actually help customers looking for advice on how to best raise their pup—had the potential to position Purina as a pack leader.

Bad puppy: Content flop

But while Puppyhood gets top marks for concept, the execution will leave readers begging for more. The site promises in-depth topics such as grooming, health, behavior, and puppy planning, but the trending stories only offer the same old pet content: “5 Reasons Your Pup Is Irreplaceable,” “10 Moments That Melt Your Heart as a Puppy Owner” and “The Best Puppy Accounts to Follow on Instagram.”

Purina said its content comes directly from researching the needs of puppy owners and workshopping with its “internal corps of experts,” and, to be fair, there are some interesting stories on the site—like, for example, “Puppy Worms and How to Treat Them.” But for every interesting piece, there are two or three articles sharing comically obvious advice such as as “house train your puppy to raise a good dog” and “give your puppy toys to stave off boredom.”

Night Agency, which is behind the Puppyhood campaign, said this type of content was the logical place to start, and it plans to build on the existing content with stories that address more niche topics.

But in the words of BarkPost editor Stacie Grissom, “To stand out, you’ve got to create your own terrier-tory.” BarkPost has managed to do so at its dog-focused content site with a unique voice and a focus on high-quality content. And over at the PetFlow blog, founder Alex Zhardanovsky has leveraged the power of data to become an alpha dog in the pet content world. Puppyhood doesn’t stand out from the pack just yet.

Good puppy: A great kickoff

Purina knows well the power of BuzzFeed. Last year, the Internet went nuts for the Purina/BuzzFeed “Dear Kitten” video. So it’s no surprise the brand chose another cheeky BuzzFeed collaboration to launch Puppyhood.

Considering the views the video has racked up, it’s safe to say that Purina drew many more initial visitors to its site then most softer launches would have.

“This type of marketing can be very effective at driving initial awareness of a new content site,” said Social Media Explorer | SME Digital CEO Nichole Kelly. “However, when people get there it has to have what they are looking for to make it sticky. The sticky factor is something I’ve seen far less of.”

Bad puppy: Breaking the rules

And therein lies the (belly) rub. As big a hit as the “Puppyhood” video was, it drove people to a site that seems more like a puppy than a full-grown content hound. In addition to failing to be the resource it aspires to be, the site also breaks some basic content marketing rules.

For one, despite Digiday’s assertion that the site’s branding is “low-key” and Fong’s assurance that “it’s not a big sales pitch,” it’s difficult to separate much of the content from a Puppy Chow advertorial. The entire nutrition channel is, of course, dedicated to selling dog food, and even stories like “Caring for Your Puppy’s Teeth” and “The Neighborly Way” manage to squeeze in endorsements.

Purina

Kelly called the site “heavily branded.”

“That causes the audience to question the credibility of the information off the bat,” she said. “Then you don’t have articles with actual authors listed—again, a mark against the credibility factor.”

According to Night Agency, however, branding the site was a purposeful play to avoid deceiving customers. The agency added that it is quite open about this being an effort that could build Purina’s business.

Worse than the overt branding though, some functions on the site don’t even work. At the time we played with it, a fun-looking breed selector tool recommended all 176 breeds for every owner preference. And the “dog walk” feature is basically just Google Street View with some embedded articles.

Despite its early missteps, Puppyhood could grow up to be a good site. It has a great look and a concept with real potential. And, to Purina’s credit, it seems open to learning some new tricks.

“We want to make the site as compelling and useful to new puppy owners as possible,” Fong says. “We hope that users will feel comfortable giving us constructive feedback and presenting some ideas on how we can make the experience even more robust for them.”

Good dog.

Image by Viorel Sima
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