How This Pet Food Brand Got Ice-T to Dress Like His Bulldog

Cesar's holiday sweater campaign celebrates the tackiness in all our hearts

As America gears up for Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa (on Dec. 24, 25 and 26, respectively), there's another year-end holiday coming even sooner, on Dec. 16. The good news is there's still time to get ready for it.

It's National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. (No, we're not kidding.)

But unless you're in the business of actually selling ugly Christmas sweaters, these ghastly woolen creations probably don't seem like much of a marketing opportunity, with the notable exception of luxe dog food-maker Cesar.

The brand recently unleashed an ugly sweater campaign called Matchy-Matchy—and we do mean unleashed, since this bizarre holiday gambit doesn't just celebrate people who love awful Christmas sweaters adorned with motifs like reindeer and snowmen, but the poor unfortunate pets who end up wearing the sweaters, too.

"The concept comes from the holiday tradition of donning tacky sweaters to get into the festive spirit," said Mars Petcare's marketing director Dan Jackson, "and turns it up a notch by giving a matching set of those sweaters to dogs and their humans."

Created by agency AMV BBDO, which also did the hugely popular Mog's Christmas Calamity short film for U.K. retailer Sainsbury's last year, Matchy-Matchy features short-form videos with social influencers doing festive things with their pets, with all participants wearing matching holiday sweaters.

Somehow, Cesar also talked some pretty big celebrities into dressing themselves and their pooches in matching knits, too. They include Houston Texans defensive end Devon Still, and actor and choreographer Mark Ballas of Dancing With the Stars fame.

Cesar even recruited no less of an Alpha dog than Ice-T, who donned a green sweater with snowflakes and posed with his bulldog, Maximus. (T's other famous dog, Sparticus, died shortly after Thanksgiving this year.)

With encouragement like this, Cesar is hoping the rest of the campaign will take care of itself. The brand is encouraging people to post photos of themselves on social media wearing matching holiday sweaters (preferably with their pets) along with the hashtag #MatchyMatchy.

NFL star Devon Still wears an unlikely uniform with his dog, Snickers.

Pet owners can also visit a special site to sign up for a chance to win one of a particularly horrendous assortment of matching people-pet sweaters. (Hurry, because the contest closes on Dec. 11.)

"These matching holiday sweater sets are a unique collection crated exclusively for the campaign," Jackson said with evident pride. (He didn't happen to mention any famous sweater designers.)

And hey, if you miss out on the contest, don't despair—Cesar has also set up a "Matchy-Matchy Photo Generator" that, using a photo of you and your pet, will digitally "dress" both of you in matching (and awful) holiday sweaters.

Of course, exactly how all of this holiday tacko-rama will elevate the image of Cesar—which, for the record, makes "canine cuisine," not mere dog food—is a little tough to say. But like so many holiday campaigns, the goal here just seems to be putting a smile on people's faces.

"Our hope is that consumers who engage with this campaign will walk away feeling good about the Cesar brand," Jackson said.

With luck, they'll wind up feeling better about the brand than those tacky sweaters, which will be safely back in the closet by January.

Mark Ballas shares a holiday moment with Hendrix, whom he adopted last year

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.