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Fido Now A Top Dog In Marketing

by Alf Nucifora

The industry statistics say it all. Pets now outnumber people in the U.S., 337.8 versus 290 million, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). That means that 62% of U.S. households own a pet, with one out of three possessing a dog or cat. With 77.7 million cats populating the household, accompanied by 65 million dogs, America continues the love affair with its hairy and furry four-footed friends. And who says that love and money don't go hand-in-hand? According to APPMA, Americans will spend $34.3 billion on pet-related items this year, including $14.3 billion on food, $16.2 billion on vet care, supplies and medicine, $2.2 billion on pet services such as grooming and boarding, not to mention the $1.6 billion in live pet purchases. And there seems to be no end in sight. Aging Baby Boomers, the growing, dominant demographic for the remainder of the decade, joined by the divorced and single heads of household will be increasingly disposed to adding a Fido or Fluffy to the household as their last child moves off the family payroll or they seek the comfort and unrequited love that only a dog or cat can provide.

Where does the money go?

It seems that everyone is getting in on the act. Companies that traditionally cater to the human set are now extending their product offerings to include the family pet. Paul Mitchell (hair care), Omaha Steaks, Origins (cosmetics and skin care), Harley-Davidson, Old Navy, Lands' End and Ralph Lauren all offer products developed and marketed solely for pets.

Service offerings abound with pet-friendly hotels featuring special oversized pillows, doggie robes, and check-in packages that include pet toy, ID tag, bathing and grooming and even turn down treats and doggie massages. On the product front, the discerning pet owner can choose from the luxury counter (designer bird cages, rhinestone tiaras), the health and wellness aisle (mouthwash, electric toothbrush, scented gel air fresheners), the high-tech department (computerized ID tags, self-flushing litter boxes, automatic doors, programmable feeders), not to mention the hip (faux mink coats, Halloween and seasonal costumes, seat belt harnesses for the automobile), and the personal (monogrammed sweaters, bowls, tags and treats).

What does it mean for marketing?

Savvy marketers have already read the tea leaves. The savviest of all, politicians, understand the brand enhancement that a pooch or puss provide… Clinton covering all the bases with cat, Socks and dog, Buddy, not to mention the incumbent Bush and his Scottie Barney. Drive-thrus (fast food and banks) are quick to offer a dog biscuit in order to establish loyalty with both pet and pet parent. Smart New York City eateries, those with outdoor seating, encourage the dog on leash as a means of increasing patronage and attracting the passer-by. In hotter climates, smart retailers set water bowls on the sidewalk to capture the attention of the strolling pet owner.

Dog shows continue to gain in popularity. The grand daddy of them all, the Westminster Dog Show pulls in higher ratings each year, with four million viewers tuned in at peak. Not to be outdone, Purina sponsors the National Dog Show which follows the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Now in its third year of broadcast, the show is predicted to pull in 10 million viewers this year, and that's no chump chow.

Advertising, however, has always seen the value of the pooch in capturing both viewer attention and brand loyalty. From Spuds McKenzie for Budweiser to the Taco Bell Chihuahua, advertisers know that pets in advertising, particularly the expressive dog, have a compelling way of communicating with those 64 million pet-owning households. In addition to establishing brand empathy, pet-focused ads appeal to the broad cross-section of target audiences and provide valuable borrowed interest where the marketplace is jaded or the brand has nothing new to say. Like it or not, the trend is toward more households with pets, and more pets in the household. With those growing numbers, comes an increasing anthropomorphism within the human-pet relationship accompanied by a greater willingness to treat animal as friend/child/family member. This, in turn, means more loyalty to and more dollars spent with those marketers and brands which understand and appreciate the relationship and cater to it with appropriate message and product offering.

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