While at its surface the Kitten Bowl may just be the cutest couple hours on television, Hallmark’s Kitten Bowl is deep rooted in a large-scale corporate initiative to shed light on pet homelessness.

Kitten Bowl III, presented in partnership with North Shore Animal League America and Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, features only shelter animals -- all of whom are adopted out via national Kitten Bowl adoption events. (The adoption van outside the October taping of Kitten Bowl III is pictured below.) The first two Kitten Bowls led to 1200 shelter kittens and cats being placed in forever homes, plus the adoptions of 237 dogs and 13 rabbits.

Hallmark’s “Pet Project” is the cable network’s evergreen initiative to both show the pleasures of pet ownership and advocate for shelter pet adoption. “It all starts with good family programming and our belief that the pet is part of the family,” said Ed Georger, Executive Vice President Ad Sales at Crown Media Family Networks, home to Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

The “Pet Project” is a major tent-pole in Hallmark Channel’s lineup. The successful Kitten Bowl has launched two sibling shows: The Paw Star Game and the new, upcoming Ultimate Kitten Summer Games. The American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, which have been telecast on the Hallmark Channel for five years, shed light on canine courage with top honors this year going to puppy mill survivor and spokesdog Harley.

“Pet Project” tie-ins are not limited to just those shows prominently featuring a four legged cast. Hallmark’s daily lifestyle talk show “Home & Family” showcased an adoptable pet in every episode throughout October, National Pet Adoption month. Hallmark’s programming looks to “open the door for conversations around specific topics like pet adoption,” said Georger.  Happy the Cat and Happy the Dog, shelter rescues who dutifully serve as  “Ambassadors of Paws-itivity” also reinforce this message through exclusive appearances and videos.

It’s a win-win for this year’s Kitten Bowl advertisers: Align with adorable, viral content while backing an important cause. Additionally, the Kitten Bowl and its online extensions offer unique opportunities for brands. Church & Dwight’s Arm & Hammer cat litter is the official sponsor, and scent reliever, of the Kitten Bowl locker room (pictured below). Reckitt Benckiser’s Resolve carpet cleaner will be prominently featured during half-time when the turf may, understandably, need some freshening up. Featured signage for novelty snack food brand Little Debbie will appear at the stadium while the brand will also partner on a series of nostalgic vignettes around the Kitten Bowl tailgate.

This year, the Kitten Bowl will also welcome its first automotive sponsor in Subaru. For the automaker, advertising during the Kitten Bowl is integral to its own corporate messaging, “Subaru Loves Pets.” Subaru has been a long-time partner of the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and supporter of animal welfare through organizations like Pilots N Paws, which saves the lives of shelter animals via rescue transports. Subaru’s canine-starring ad campaigns (as seen in the video below) are both funny and heartwarming reminders that pets are family, making this relationship between network and advertiser a truly meaningful one and underscoring the advocacy measures both have instated.

 

With “Pet Project,” Georger noted, the Hallmark Channel and associated sponsors tap into a loyal, diehard community that becomes a highly engaged and powerful audience. Social engagement around animal adoption and advocacy confirm this fact. “Social media has changed the world for homeless animals,” according to a 2014 article published by The Humane Society. When leveraged correctly, social media can save thousands of at-risk animals. “Committed people are involved in this project … [there is] value for advertisers and corporately, it’s a very important project,” Georger explained.

This month and through December, the Hallmark Channel celebrates the holidays with its annual Countdown to Christmas programming. It is worth noting that holiday enthusiasts are similar to pet enthusiasts in their passion and social media use. It is also worth noting that as households choose to bring home pets as gifts this holiday season, that 1) pet ownership is a responsibility and time commitment and 2) there are millions of shelter dogs and cats in need of homes (according to the ASPCA, approximately 7.6MM enter shelters nationwide every year).

As it continues to see growth in distribution and ratings, Hallmark Channel is expanding its commitment to its “Pet Project.” In an era of intense disruption and competition, the company has put a stake in the ground in really staying true to its family friendly brand identity. The “Pet Project” is not forced but a very natural corporate initiative, in that a pet is part of the family.

In many cases (or in mine at least) that pet may just be the most important part.

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