WeatherTech CEO David MacNeil has bankrolled a multi-million-dollar personal marketing statement: a 30-second TV commercial that will run during the Super Bowl this Sunday comprising a pitch for the university veterinary school that helped his very sick dog recover its health.
MacNeil has advertised during the big game for seven years straight now. In 2019, MacNeil spent around $7 million on a 45-second spot to promote his two personal passions: American-made WeatherTech auto accessories, and dogs. But rather than pitch his company’s products this year, he’s spending $6.5-million for ad-time and production costs to air a spot called “Lucky Dog,” which will tell the story of MacNeil’s dog, Scout, who last year was rescued from what amounted to a medical death sentence. Doctors at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine helped the beloved pooch get back on his paws with aggressive treatments after a dire cancer diagnosis.
The ad, to be aired on Fox during the second quarter of Super Bowl LIV, amounts to a huge testament to MacNeil’s passion for pets as well as a bountifully appreciated pitch for contributions to the UW vet school and to canine cancer research in general. MacNeil is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from the on-air pitch to the school.
“I’m not aware of” any precedent or model for this kind of highly personal appeal during the Big Game, MacNeil told Chief Executive. “Everyone always wants to sell snacks, beer, cars and trucks and to get the money back into their own pockets.”
The new ad also represents a fascinating evolution in MacNeil’s unparalleled six-year campaign to use Big Game advertisements to create a distinct brand for his WeatherTech customized car floor mats and other products, built around the fact that they are made in America out of U.S. raw materials. Thus, WeatherTech and MacNeil were pioneers and now have become beacons for Trump-era advocates of domestic manufacturing.
“We’ve been telling the same story for six years” in WeatherTech’s Super Bowl ads, which have ranged up to one minute in length and have featured not only Scout and cameos of MacNeil but also company employees and operations. “We’ve been harnessing the power of the great American worker and American technology. Everyone knows that we’ve built this great brand. So I thought, ‘How do we do something to leverage that investment for the betterment of animals and people?’
“The ‘Mayo Clinic for dogs’ happens to be the University of Wisconsin. So, let’s see what we can do to help them.”
One Super Bowl ad showed a new high-quality pet-feeding system that WeatherTech developed and began producing a couple of years ago. But the new commercial stemmed from last summer’s diagnosis of a tumor on Scout’s heart. Local vets near WeatherTech headquarters in Bolingbrook, Illinois, told MacNeil that he needed to put seven-year-old Scout down and that his pet had just a 1-percent chance of living for a year.
“Compare that to ebola in humans: They have a 50-percent chance of survival, depending on the strain,” MacNeil said. “Dogs die quickly with this type of cancer. And the main cause of canine death overall is cancer.”
So MacNeil decided to “pull out all the stops” by visiting UW, about two hours to the northwest in Madison, Wisconsin. “I asked them to come up with a plan to treat him and try to beat the odds, to throw the book at it, to take some very humane and ethical chances.” The university’s approach consisted of chemotherapy treatment, then radiation treatments, then experimental immunotherapy. “Scout is living a high quality of life right now,” he said.
“I’m supporting them,” MacNeil said. “How could I give back and help them do more for other people’s animals? Also, what scientists learn about canine cancer has connections to research for humans, too. I could have written a check to UW, and that would be great, but I felt, ‘Let’s see what we can do to raise awareness, and see how compassionate the people of America are to open their wallets to help dogs.’”
MacNeil said that UW vets didn’t know who he was, including the fact that he’s built WeatherTech into an automotive-aftermarket empire that had about $400 million in annual sales more than a half-decade ago and has developed its latest popular device, the CupFone, into a $100-million-plus brand in only a couple of years on the market.
He also wouldn’t have blamed them, MacNeil said, for being skeptical after he told UW officials how he planned to express his gratitude. Few could have expected an endorsement of a service by a higher-education institution on the world’s biggest marketing stage – an aspect of the WeatherTech commercial that likely by itself is unique.
“How would you react?” MacNeil said. “’Who is this guy? Is he really going to do it? What’s it going to look like? Is it going to be self-serving?’ No one has ever done this before. And when the doctors actually saw the commercial, many had tears in their eyes.”
Mark Markel, dean of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a press release that the commercial “is an amazing opportunity” for the school and “for veterinary medicine worldwide.”