For the love of Pit Bulls: a Valentine goes viral

How an organic campaign got legs and what it means for your social media strategy

In 2013, one of our clients, a national candymaker, released a series of heart-shaped Valentine’s boxes featuring photos of puppies and kittens. The “Best Friends” Valentine series proved popular with the company’s fans, but one Valentine’s box eclipsed the rest, spontaneously generating more than 100 comments on the company’s Facebook page.

The runaway box featured two Pit Bull terrier pups at play, and was captioned “It’s the Pits Without You.” And the response was illuminating, not only for the number of comments it generated, but for their content as well:

“Any company who chooses to display the American Pit Bull on their boxes is a company I will always support with my dollars,” one customer wrote.

“Thank you for choosing to portray pitbulls in a loving and positive light. I will buy your products anytime I can and spread the word,” wrote another.

“I’ll be buying every box my local [store] has and giving them to those who adopt from my rescue . . .You have our full support and all our Valentine’s purchases for decades to come.”

Now that’s brand loyalty.

Social media marketing can be a strange world. It has a lot in common with a circus—no shortage of sights, a bit chaotic in feel, and a here-today, gone-tomorrow vibe that can feel really exciting or downright discouraging, depending on your perspective. But as this case showed, social media can carry a brand off the page and into people’s lives on a level—and at a price—that’s simply unmatched by any other media.

Sometimes, if you build it, they will come.

As Facebook migrates from a purely social platform to an advertising medium, some have worried that marketing will kill the entire social media construct, or warp it into something that isn’t effective either socially or commercially. But I believe this particular case highlights that intermediate space where businesses and individuals can happily connect for mutual benefit. The company had a brand with a history. It developed integrated online platforms and social media to build on the brand. It continually posted content that engaged fans, offering recipes and craft ideas and coupons and giveaways that readers valued. So when customers wanted to talk back, the platform was there and the word spread. That’s what social media marketing delivers that nothing else can.

It’s also worth noting that it was the message and the audience that drove this success. The audience for this campaign has several critical, unique qualities:

  • Forgive the pun, but these people are underdogs. Their position is not shared by the mainstream.
  • Pit bull fans rarely hear messages supporting their side of the issue. When they hear one, they listen.
  • They proselytize. They perceive an error and an injustice in popular opinion and want to see it corrected.
  • The injustice is personal and emotional for them, not merely political.

Remember, this is the best friends campaign, not the best pets campaign. One commenter wrote, “I love [your] candy and have since I was a kid! Even sweeter now that I see you love my pit bull child!”

It’s a great reminder that while today’s consumers may indeed be the most information-driven of all time, brand attachment remains largely a matter of the heart. And that’s why social media is so critical to any company’s marketing strategy. When brands are positioned to amplify organic messages as they develop, nothing delivers like social media. This particular thread has been drawing comments for more than a year.

Oh, and the final takeaway? Cute never goes out of style. Puppies and kittens! Enough said.

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