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CSN EXCLUSIVE: Sheetz Encourages Customers to Embrace Their Inner 'Freakz'

The retailer's recent ad campaign introduced five unique puppets meant to represent fans' inner cravings.
Woman sitting on couch looking her inner Sheetz Freakz

ALTOONA, Pa. — It's not unusual for a customer to stop by a convenience store to satisfy a spontaneous craving. Maybe they just got thirsty or wanted a protein bar, or had only intended to use the fuel pump but decided to grab a cup of coffee as well. 

Those everyday, last-minute decisions that bring a person inside to make a purchase are many. But it's not every day that those decisions get externally personified.

[Read more: Sheetz Kicks Off Summer Giveaway] 

That's the premise of Sheetz Inc.'s most recent ad campaign, where customers are encouraged to visit a Sheetz convenience store or place an online order guided by their inner "Freakz," embodied in the commercials as red furry puppets. 

Though the idea for this campaign is new, the Freakz have their roots in the retailer's pop history.

"We lovingly refer to our most loyal fans as Sheetz Freakz and in turn, they wear their Freakz badge proudly," said RTO+P, the agency behind the campaign. "The puppets represent a personification of their inner Sheetz Freakz, the craving inside to indulge in the things that make life more extraordinary; that urge that we believe we all have in us, to live outside the routine."

That championing of spontaneity and the way it could serve as a theme for its marketing work is part of the reason Sheetz decided to partner with the agency in 2023, according to Tammy Dunkley, senior brand design manager for the c-store operator. 

"[RTO+P] was brought on to create 300-plus TikTok videos … then transitioned to AOR [agency of record] in 2024 and now works on all campaign work," she said. "We were looking for an agency that understood who we are and how we do business. Through both their thinking and creative process, RTO+P proved to be a perfect fit."

The current run of commercials had to go through several planning stages once the focus on the Sheetz Freakz fandom had been decided on, RTO+P explained. What did an inner Freakz look like? Did they interact with each other? What rules would they have to follow within the world of the advertisements?

[Read more: Sheetz Rolls Out Cinco de Mayo Offer]

"We wanted the Freakz to have a backstory, heart and soul, because we want them to truly embody the Sheetz ethos, rather than just [be] a mascot or marketing vehicle," the agency noted. "Same goes for the decision to actually make the Freakz rather than use CGI [computer-generated imagery] and animation to bring them to life. Again, our decision to actually build the Freakz was made because it's important to the idea that they feel real in the world."

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Hand reaching for a burrito with a Sheetz Freakz sitting in the background

Ideas, Not Mascots

Five Freakz puppets were created to partner with human actors, though the puppets have been reutilized for social media content as well. To bring them to life, a Hollywood puppet house was brought onboard, with professional puppeteers working on set. This was one of the few areas in the commercials where CGI effects were utilized, to ensure the puppeteers were invisible in the final cuts.

"We worked with a fabulously imaginative and funny director, Mike Maguire, and his trusted production partners at SKUNK," said RTO+P. "Mike and SKUNK understood our vision and not only brought our spots to life but immersed themselves in the Sheetz consumer to understand the target audience and the core of the campaign."

The Sheetz Freakz puppet count as of now remains small, but there is the possibility of creating more iterations for future campaigns — which may well happen if the audience response is anything to judge by.

"People are instantly drawn to the red furry creatures and want to collect them," said Nicole Auman, Sheetz's director of brand marketing.

[Read more: Sheetz Reaffirms Commitment to D&I Following EEOC Lawsuit]

The current campaign is slated to run through the fall of 2024, though the retailer maintains the importance of the Sheetz Freakz identity and fandom, and acknowledges the possibility of the marketing evolving in the future.

The company also emphasizes that since the idea pre-dates the ads, the Freakz can continue to live on even without commercial work to support them.

"The Freakz embody the brand's promise to free people from getting mired in their daily routine," Dunkley and Aumen said. "So, ultimately the spirit of the inner Sheetz Freakz fits squarely into the brand's belief that life is better lived beyond the ho-hum and beige, and that notion is at the core of everything the brand seeks to do."

In the meantime, the retailer intends to embrace that frontier-esque ethos by continuing its growth trajectory and technology updates. Its first Michigan store is slated to open later this year, while further investments are being made in its mobile ordering and on-demand delivery services.

Established in 1952 in Altoona, Sheetz is one of America's fastest-growing family-owned and -operated convenience store chains with 730 stores and more than 25,000 employees. 

About the Author

Koprowski Headshot

Amanda Koprowski

Amanda Koprowski is the associate editor at Convenience Store News. She is a new member of the team, having joined the company in December of 2022.

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