Markets Focus: Marketing In The Ruff

Markets Focus: Marketing In The Ruff

Dog owners are still spending on their pets

Call it anthropomorphism, or more accurately, call it a lucrative market. Dog owners are a marketer's best friend - even when the task at hand isn't pushing pet products. Despite their high maintenance, dogs remain the most popular pet in the United States, with 45.6 million households owning 77.5 million canines, according to the American Pet Products Association's 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey. They're a spendy bunch, forking over an estimated $45.4 billion in 2009. The lion's share of that goes to food, but the APPA expected spending on general supplies and over-the-counter medications to total $10.2 billion.

The U.S. Congress is even contemplating a tax break for pet owners. The so-called HAPPY Act, an acronym for "Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years," would let owners of all sorts of critters deduct up to $3,500 per year for everything from kitty litter to bird seed. The bill was last seen stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee, but it illustrates how seriously Americans take their pet ownership.

High Society

You don't need to sneak the pooch into Kimpton Hotels. Their pet-friendly policy, in place since 1981, may be the best in the land. "You'd be surprised how many business people travel with their pets," says Steve Pinetti, svp of sales and marketing. While the chain of boutique hotels doesn't directly target ads to pet owners, its Web site features services such as pet-sitting on the front page.

This illustrates a trend identified by the APPA: Buddy and Daisy are being treated more and more like people. So, it's not surprising that people-oriented brands are expanding to include pet lines. For example, John Paul Mitchell Systems, maker of Paul Mitchell hair-care products, now offers John Paul Pet. It's not dog shampoo, it's a "solution-based system" formulated to match the pH of a dog's skin with special botanicals. Maybe Fluffy will let you borrow her crème rinse sometime.

Del Monte Foods, famous for fruit and vegetables, got dog-friendly when it purchased the Pup-Peroni brand of dog treats from Heinz in 2002. Its first big national ad splash launched in 2009, with an integrated TV, print and social media campaign. The "Dogs Just Know" campaign, from Draftfcb San Francisco, is based on the belief that dogs and their parents, er, owners, share an almost human-like connection.

In the TV spots, dogs communicate via signs held in their mouths. Owners are encouraged to "let them know you're listening" by handing them a piece of Pup-Peroni, which looks exactly like a jerky stick. Online, visitors to can select one of the four commercials, write their own message on the dog's card, and then email it to a friend.

The economy may be in the doghouse, but the pet category doesn't seem to be suffering as much as some others. According to Christie Fleming, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Foods, the treats category in particular is growing quickly. You may not be able to put steak on the family dinner table, but you can still slip Rex a piece of something yummy. "Pet parents continue to treat their pets as a low-cost indulgence that gets them a high emotional payoff that's been resilient during this economy," says Fleming.

Bark magazine recently pumped up its Web site,, with original content. Bark focuses on dogs' place in society, according to publisher Cameron Woo. "I often compare the whole culture around dogs to the parenting market," he says. "They want for their pets the same things people want for their kids: good healthcare, enrichment, the best training techniques."

Bark's online promotion for Paramount film's Hotel for Dogs lets people nominate their favorite nonprofit or rescue organization to win a special screening. It's doing a similar promotion with Crypton Super Fabrics, a textile manufacturer that sells fabric to hospitals and hotels, as well as dog bedding. Site visitors can nominate animal shelters for a makeover with new sleep mats, dog beds and upholstery.

Bark has seen plenty of advertisers pitching their products to the magazine's affluent, educated demographic. Bissell, for example, advertised a special vacuum attachment for sucking up dog hair, while Honda and Subaru highlight their vehicles as part of the doggie lifestyle.

Suck It Up

Also in the vacuum sphere, Dyson tagged Dogster, a canine-centric social networking site, which boasts about 1.5 million unique monthly visitors across its network, for a promotion offering deep discounts on its high-end cleaners for people who joined its group. Dogster users are predominantly women, who are ever-more sophisticated in how they use digital media, according to founder Steven Reading. To reach them, "We're applying the traditional advertising paradigm - integrated brand campaigns - across the entire site," he says.

To widen its reach, Dogster recently announced a partnership with the Cheezburger Network, home to I Can Has Cheezburger, Loldogs, Lolcats and Failblog. As the exclusive seller of premium ads on these wildly popular time-wasters, "I can now give partners a huge footprint," says Reading. Ads on the network drive traffic to Dogster groups for advertisers including Dyson and Febreeze, a long-time Dogster sponsor, as well as to contests or third-party sites.

Driving mobile traffic to a Web site is the ultimate aim of Petsmd, a new iPhone application. Anxious pet parents who worry about every sniffle - as well as those faced with an injury or a suddenly ill canine companion - can quickly figure out if it's an emergency or just an upset tummy with the PetsMD Symptom Checker. The app, still in beta, is already among the top 30 health and wellness offerings for the iPhone, according to Petsmd vice president of marketing Guy MacNeill. PetsMD aims to be an online marketing tool for veterinarians, who pay to be listed. After checking symptoms, dog owners will be able to go to the Web site to find a local veterinarian and book an appointment.

Part of the Family

It may be socially embarrassing when your dog gets fleas, so Frontline turned to social media to remind folks to dab their dogs regularly with its anti-flea and -tick medicine.

"You have an emotional attachment with your pet, so engaging people in the health of their pet is not hard to do," says Michael Hutton, senior director of veterinary strategy for parasiticides at Merial, maker of Frontline. "Engaging them to talk about fleas is a little harder."

A Facebook campaign lets dog owners add Fido to the family tree via the We're Related application. People who added their pets were automatically entered into a custom-built Frontline Cutest Pet contest, where other users could rate them as "hot or not." Optimedia San Francisco handled the media planning and buying, working with Appssavvy, a company that connects brand advertisers with social media apps.

The goals of the campaign were brand awareness and consumer education, according to Hutton.

"Over half the dogs who go to a veterinarian leave without a flea and tick product. So, we're talking about why you should be investing in a product of the quality of Frontline," he says.

The app and contest were promoted with dynamic banners on Dogbook, still another Facebook utility. The banners pulled in photos and names of the users' Facebook friends and Dogbook pets, asking, "Who knows you best?" Users could also download or pass along a widget that reminded them when they needed to dose the dog again.
There was a .77 percent CTR on the widget, with a 12 percent interaction rate, and 80,621 total pets added on We're Related during the campaign. Finally, 0.2 percent clicked to print a coupon for the product.

Those numbers are nothing to sniff at. Can canine cologne be far behind?

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