Although the timing itself can't be credited to strategy, the fact that Milk-Bones' 100th anniversary happened to fall just as new owner Del Monte is the process of revitalizing the brand is a fortuitous coincidence, and Del Monte is making the most of it.
The anniversary is serving as the platform for a full year's worth of events and promotions, starting with an "un-fur-gettable" extravaganza in New York's Times Square this week.
This week, Milk-Bone unveiled a 480-square-foot "Milk-Bone Moments Dog House," festooned with more than 100,000 of the biscuits-something you just don't see every day, even in Times Square.
The blowout featured guest appearances by Ivanka Trump and Cristian de la Fuente of "In Plain Sight" and "Dancing with the Stars," accompanied, of course, by their dogs. A pet psychic was on hand to do paw readings. There were doggy dancing demonstrations, and "bark-tenders" dispensed Milk-Bone snacks to four-legged partygoers.
In addition, the brand presented a $1 million donation in honor of its Milk-Bone Canine Heroes program, a long-standing national outreach program that provides canine assistance service dogs to individuals with physical disabilities, as well as police dogs for law enforcement agencies.
The doghouse's walls were hung with photos of celebrities and their canines ("autographed" by both owner and pet) taken by pet photographer Christopher Ameruoso. After the celebration, the signed photos were auctioned off, with all proceeds going to benefit Canine Assistants.
The event generated extensive media coverage, even drawing some paparazzi snapping shots of the celebs and their pets for the entertainment magazines.
It also served to help publicize another key aspect of the anniversary campaign, a Web-based contest wherein "pet parents" can enter their most memorable "Milk-Bone Moment," captured in a photo or video. The contest will recognize the top 100 "moments of joy that strengthen the bond between a pet and his or her pet parent."
Posting of entries and voting will occur on the brand's site through Sept. 18. Participation is also being driven by a mobile contest tour stopping in 14 cities.
The grand prize-winning dog will receive a $100,000 contract to be Milk-Bone's first-ever "spokesdog," plus a digital camera. The 99 runners-up also get a camera.
How do the anniversary and contest fit into the brand's overall marketing direction?
The contest creates a highly visible exposure opportunity for the relatively new Milk-Bone Moment branding message.
"We kind of stumbled into the insight that people have tremendously strong emotional bonds with their dogs, and that many of their joyful moments together are based on the pet parent's giving the dog a Milk-Bone," says brand manager Amy Hammerschmidt.
"Moments" will be the foundation for a "smart and well-integrated" campaign effort that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, she adds.
Del Monte's $580-million acquisition of Milk-Bone from Kraft Foods and subsequent purchase of Meow Mix, both in 2006, pushed its pet business to the $1 billion level. Other Del Monte pet brands include Kibbles 'n' Bits, 9Lives, Snausages, Pup-Peroni, Meaty Bone and Pounce.
Milk-Bone logged a solid performance in calendar year 2007. Sales in supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers (Wal-Mart and specialty stores excluded) for 17 varieties of Milk-Bone biscuits, treats and beverages totaled $148.8 million--up 1.8% over 2006, with units up by under 1%, according to Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources, Inc. Milk-Bone dog/cat needs products leaped by 1,159% to $5.2 million, with units up 809%, and the brand's rawhide dog chew sales jumped 636% to $1.9 million, with units up 474%.
But with competition, costs and prices all on the rise, Del Monte is not only being dogged about marketing, it's introducing new varieties and distribution strategies. Milk-Bone gained share in Del Monte's fiscal 07 fourth quarter in part because of expanded alternate channel distribution. "This is a key part of what we had anticipated we would be able to do deploy to revitalize this business," Del Monte chairman/CEO/president Rick Wolford said in announcing year-end results.
Wolford also said that Milk-Bone (and Meow Mix) are performing ahead of expectations.