PETCO's Chihuahua races increase brand awareness

Chihuahuas, it turns out, definitely pull in the crowds. More than just cute little lap dogs for the likes of Pairs Hilton, the dogs are speedy little creatures and good pets, too.

Chihuahuas, it turns out, definitely pull in the crowds. More than just cute little lap dogs for the likes of Pairs Hilton, the dogs are speedy little creatures and good pets, too.

PETCO, the pet-supply company with more than 900 stores, was hoping to use the popular breed
to attract customers to its locations.

Strategy
During a brainstorm session three years ago, PETCO threw out the idea of hosting a Chihuahua race. "We try to conduct regular events in our stores that make it fun for people to come on in," says Kevin Whelan, VP of corporate communications. The strategy was not solely to drive traffic, but to build a nationwide event that could serve as a powerful branding tool.

Tactics
PETCO brought in Carmichael Lynch Spong (CLS) in 2005 looking to expand the event and help generate pre-event publicity, says Leslie Jones, counselor for CLS. Covering only four markets in 2005, the event has expanded to 15 this year. The team filmed races and put footage on YouTube and PETCO's Web site. They also brought the dogs on the road, holding special races in TV studios and parking lots to bring the events to a wider audience. The events were also linked to animal-rescue programs, providing local adoption partners at races.

Results
More than 2,800 Chihuahuas raced in 2007, attracting 8,800 total spectators. The races also garnered press coverage in 137 markets, including segments on Today, Anderson Cooper 360o, and ESPN's Cold Pizza. Yet, Whelan notes that much of the results came in anecdotally: "This [is] much more a branding and awareness event than a traffic-driving event."

Future
Whelan says the event is now one of the company's centerpiece PR efforts, and it is set to continue.

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