How Lucidchart’s Animal Explainers Became One of Today’s Most Beloved Ad Campaigns

Its sneks, puppers and bunnos have racked up 200 million views

Lucidchart's animal meme explainer videos hilariously tap into a passionate subculture while also illustrating the product. Lucidchart
Headshot of David Griner

If your job entails making flowcharts, process maps, org charts or other diagrams, you’ve probably heard of Lucidchart, the collaborative design software. But that still leaves roughly 99 percent of the internet completely unaware of the service.

“We think Lucidchart is for everyone,” says creative director Caleb Hepler. “Everyone should be using this, but that’s not necessarily who we have now. We’re trying to branch out from the typical use cases.”

So last year, the company decided to try a new marketing approach that would expand Lucidchart’s reach without taxing its largely nonexistent advertising budget.

The result was a series of videos that explain animal memes in just about the most charming way possible. The team started with “What Is a Pupper? What Is a Doggo?”

It was, immediately, a massive hit. And since that first installment, the campaign has generated a staggering 200 million views.

“We didn’t have high expectations for it. We thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot,'” says Nathan Rawlins, CMO of Lucidchart. “This seemed like a very low-risk, low-cost way to do something, and we could iterate from there. When, the next day, we’re seeing millions and millions of views, we were just shocked.”

Behind each video is Hepler, who handles the research, writing, diagraming and even (celebrity alert) provides the voice-over. But he wasn’t always an expert on floofers, kittehs and bunnos. In fact, the first time he learned about the subculture of animal naming memes, he was baffled.

Caleb Hepler, creative director of
Lucidchart and voice of its animal ads

When brainstorming marketing ideas, Hepler had been considering using memes that were rapidly getting dated, but a colleague (Lucid Software engineering director James Judd) pointed him toward the growing community of animal re-namers.

“He proposed ‘doggos.’ I just looked at him with a completely blank face,” Hepler says. “He explained, ‘A doggo is a small floofer, and a small doggo is a pupper.'”

Soon Hepler was taking a deep dive into the world of animal name memes, which give adorable-yet-accurate new titles to all the world’s creatures. Members of (typically anonymous) communities such as Reddit’s r/ProperAnimalNames generate the names and feed off each other’s creativity, producing some truly inspired creations such as an elephant being a “flappy stompy” or a peacock being a “disco turkey.”

The original video cost only about $30 for audio licensing and to buy one image that wasn’t in the public domain, Hepler says.

After pushing it live, he promptly went on vacation. He returned a few days later to find a flurry of internal emails. Scrolling through the backlog, he learned the clip hadn’t just done well—it had gone viral, amassing more than 30 million views.

Even that early in the campaign’s life, he knew the secret ingredient in its success: Treating an admittedly silly subject matter with respect for the community that had created these funny and inventive new identities for animals.

“Even though it was a quick turnaround in terms of making the video, I was very particular about diving all the way into that meme culture, because I think everyone can sniff out a phony,” Hepler says.  “It was mostly about the content, about something that’s funny and engaging and true to the actual culture and memes. The branding part of it just seemed to fit. We weren’t trying to shoehorn our product into it. The product was just part of the content.”

Each ad slowly builds to the payoff: a reveal that you’ve been looking at a Lucidchart diagram the entire time. The spots assemble a mind map of animal meme groupings, an Hepler’s charts do a good job explaining both the unspoken structures of the animal meme world and how the software can help visualize just about anything.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."