The Shelter Pet Project: The Shelter Pet Project Campaign


Campaign Summary

The Shelter Pet Project is the result of a collaborative effort between two leading animal welfare groups, the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie's Fund, and the leading producer of public service advertising (PSA) campaigns, The Ad Council. According to the organizations, 2.4 million healthy and treatable pets are currently in shelters; the goal of the "The Shelter Pet Project" campaign is to help find a home for these pets. The Shelter Pet Project encourages millions of pet lovers to make shelters the chosen method to adopt companion animals.


Objective and Context:

This was the first time that The Shelter Pet Project (as well as any non-profit) used relationship targeting to increase pet adoption. Often, brands target "influencers" or social connections, but in this instance, The Shelter Pet Project targeted the real-world connections (people whom consumers live with or spend a great deal of time with) to drive the desired behavior.

The primary objective of the digital advertising campaign in support of the Shelter Pet Project was to increase deep funnel visits to the pet adoption page on the campaign website,, which indicated a strong intent to adopt a pet and allows visitors to search for adoptable pets in their area. Additionally, the campaign sought to drive awareness of The Pet Shelter Project and promote adoption of pets nationwide.

Target Audience:

The general audience for Shelter Pet Project included two targets between the ages of 24 and 44 and then people over age 45:

  • Primary: The "Fence Sitter." These are the individuals who will be acquiring a pet within the next year, but remain undecided on where they will acquire their pet from.
  • Secondary: "Shelter Pet Parents." These are one segment of the larger pro-adoption advocate segment.

For the digital campaign, the organizations pixeled to identify who had visited. Among that audience, predictive targeting was used to identify and reach those in the target demographic who were most likely to take the desired action of deep funnel website visits.

Creative Strategy:

The mobile and desktop display campaign depicted the shelter pet as a "celebrity." The dog PSA features a pug named Hamilton with the tagline Shelter Pet and Life of the Party. The ad also featured Hamilton's Instagram followers and a call to action of "Start a Story," which directs audiences to visit, where they are able to search for a pet from a local shelter or rescue group, read adoption success stories, and learn valuable information about pet adoption. The cat PSA features a cat acting as a DJ.


Overall Campaign Execution:

The Pet Shelter Project campaign began in 2014. However, in 2018, the campaign took a first-to-market approach: relationship targeting.

Brand recommendations from family, co-habitants, and friends are overwhelmingly influential throughout the consumer journey. Twenty to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions are influenced by word of mouth, and brands see a 200 percent lift in sales through marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth. Additionally, a brand recommendation from a trusted friend is 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase.

The relationship targeting enables advertisers to harness the power of relationships, specifically family, co-habitants, or friends of the core customer/target, to influence the target consumer's behavior toward the advertiser's desired action or KPI. Campaign results indicated a strong positive correlation between the number of influencers reached and the response rate from the target audience.

Mobile Execution:

AdTheorent worked with the Ad Council and the campaign sponsors to identify audiences who had previously visited After the core audience was defined, AdTheorent's relationship targeting algorithms leveraged user device location patterns to identify groups of real-world consumer relationships. Additionally, AdTheorent's Cross-Environment Map, which consisted of more than 740 million unique device IDs mapped to over 92 million U.S. households, enabled AdTheorent to identify core audience connections of family members, co-habitants, and friends. AdTheorent's relationship graph mapped these connections and consists of 1.3 trillion graphed connections, an average of 14 friends, family members, and co-habitants per person. AdTheorent mapped real-world human connections to target the family and co-habitants of the core group that had expressed interest in pet adoption, with the goal of influencing the core audience through these relationships.

AdTheorent's relationship targeting is not possible without the use of mobile. Mobile enables the campaign to build the relationship graph using geo patterns to determine family and friends. Over the past seven years, AdTheorent has mapped human relationships across the U.S. Connected devices deliver persistent data that allows the organization to see where individuals go and who they are with.

Typically, advertisers create social networks based on elective social connections or followers which are not necessarily indicative of real-world connections (i.e., people who actually spend time together) that make a difference or are influential. Unlike other "graphs" that map social connections, or influencer marketing, AdTheorent's relationship graph identifies real-world connections (family members, friends, work associates) who are capable of affecting a person's purchasing decisions.

Results (including context, evaluation, and market impact)

Pet adoption has increased since 2009, despite adverse economic conditions. Thirty-seven percent of dogs and 46 percent of cats in American homes were adopted from shelters or rescue groups, and the number of healthy and treatable pets losing their lives for lack of a home is now down to 2.4 million. However, while one in two Americans express interest in adopting from animal shelters and rescue groups, misperceptions about shelters and shelter pets continue.

Relationship targeting was a perfect fit for this campaign because pet adoption is a family-based or collaborative decision. Relationship targeting drove an 86 percent lift in conversion, as opposed to targeting only the individual who had previously visited the adoption URL. This demonstrated that with a larger influence from family, engagement rate performance improved and more users advanced within the adoption funnel. Conversion rates for in-market individuals who had six connections who were also served advertisements outperformed (by 70 percent) the conversion rates for in-market individuals with only one connection who had been served an ad.

Categories: Innovation, Social Impact/Not For Profit | Industries: Nonprofits & Government | Objectives: Innovation, Social Impact/Not For Profit | Awards: NA Bronze Winner, NA Silver Winner