A year and a half ago, big-box discounter Big Lots didn’t think much about social media. Now, the company is playing catch up.

For its latest digital video campaign, with ad agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul (OKRP), Big Lots took a reasonably safe path to shareable Internet eye-candy by recruiting babies and puppies. It is a combination that OKRP’s CEO Tom O’Keefe described as a “one-plus-one-equals-three power.” Doggies vs. Babies, as the spots are called, tap into adorableness for a “who’s cuter” face-off in a six-part series.

The match-up originated in the coincidentally close release of two new product lines at Big Lots: baby brand b*loved and American Kennel Club Select dog toys and treats.

“Babies and dogs are two dominant phenomenons on the Internet, so we had fun playing them off of each other and taking it to the next level,” said O’Keefe.

While other brands, like Denny’s and DiGiorno, are gearing their social strategy toward the millennial consumer, Big Lots has a different demographic in its sights. Doggies vs. Babies, along with Big Lots’ other digital ad campaigns from the past year, has the retailer’s core customer in mind: “Jennifer,” a 42-year-old female. 

“Jennifer” was identified through an analysis of Big Lots’ reward program’s consumer data. According to Big Lots chief customer officer Andy Stein, she is “digital and very social on all platforms,” which in part resulted in the retailer’s strong social media ramp-up. 

OKRP, which has been working with Big Lots for the past year and a half, envisions her as someone who is “looking for a bargain, confident in her ability to make herself feel great, and thinks young,” according to O’Keefe. A previous ad campaign, #BigLotsFirst, starred a group of real-life Jennifers. 

Doggies vs. Babies has a much broader audience reach — an age group “from nine to 90” — as Big Lots still has a lot of room to grow on social, Stein said. The group of ads shows babies and puppies as they attempt to complete unlikely tasks like playing a keyboard or answering a phone.

Viewers are asked to join #TeamDoggies or #TeamBabies, and share their choice on Twitter and in comments on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, where the ads are being promoted. Stein said that the strongest engagement so far is on Facebook. 

On Twitter, engagement has been weak, according to data pulled by Crimson Hexagon. The hashtags #TeamBabies and #TeamDoggies were tweeted in conjunction with Big Lots a total of 34 times since April 27, and of those, only four weren’t retweets.

“We’re far behind on social,” said Stein. “Our customer is very digital and needs to be able to have the online experience with Big Lots.”

Right now, the retailer trails competitor Kmart on all channels, at least in terms of connections. Big Lots has 1.2 million likes on Facebook (Kmart has 1.4 million), 67,500 Twitter followers (Kmart has 130,000), 10,700 Instagram followers (Kmart has 14,300), and 2,900 YouTube subscribers (Kmart has 44,000).

In its social push, Big Lots hasn’t forgotten entirely about the much-sought-after millennial consumer base. On Facebook, the retailer couldn’t resist a touch of trendy verbiage.

This baby can’t even.

Posted by Big Lots on Sunday, May 3, 2015

But don’t worry, Jennifer. The brand doesn’t plan to go full bore on-fleek.

“It’s not too cool or alienating,” said O’Keefe of the retailer’s campaigns. “When you speak to a millennial, it can feel limiting. These are meant to make you feel good about the brand.”

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