What do you mean by artificial?

100% Natural LogoDid You Run That Copy By Legal?

I used to verify claims in automotive ads and ran them through a strict legal process. I often look at pet food advertising in disbelief. Flimsy and misleading claims abound in the pet marketing space. Yet, these claims seem to elude the kind of competitor challenges and scrutiny common in automotive.  To be clear, pet food is highly regulated, and there are rules about what needs to be in the package as well as on the package.

Is Newer Really Better?

New dog foods are being launched at a dizzying rate, with a clear relationship to trends in human foodsIt’s not clear that trendy new ingredients and formulations are better for dogs than the older foods that have sustained them for decades.  This is a highly controversial area and I’ve chosen not to cover it in my blog up until now.  Some recent coverage of Petco’s change to their product assortment has inspired this post looking at pet retail advertising claims.

Petco logo backwardsReBranding Big Pet(co) With a Bold Claim

Big Box Pet, i.e. Petco and Petsmart, have been struggling a bit recently. Like many big box retailers, they are fighting the onslaught of online retail on their business.  They are both working on strategies to fight back. Petco, the smaller company, has been making bold moves, including experimental stores, focused on all-inclusive pet in-store services. Petco hired a new CEO in June 2018, who in turn hired a new CMO in September.  In November, the company announced it was dropping all products with artificial colors and flavors.  This move was praised for its boldness, with coverage based on their press release appearing in the business and general press, including Forbes, Fortune, and the Associated Press. 

Does This Claim Pass the Sniff Test?

Recently, a blog post at Pet Food Industry by Ryan Yamka caught my eye. Ryan is highly credentialled in pet nutrition with professional experience in petfood manufacturing. He calls Petco out for not being 100% true to their pledge, using his knowledge of the ingredients on, and missing from their “banned list”.   Some of the dropped foods do not contain artificial ingredients, but they do happen to have lower margins than some of the foods that are retained.  He also notes that there are a few foods with artificial ingredients still to be found on their shelves – in private label foods manufactured exclusively for Petco. Other artificial ingredients that are not on the banned list are included in high-margin treats.   The ingredient analysis is a bit too technical for me to verify, but I trust Ryan’s explanation. As a former pet specialty retail marketer, I absolutely recognize the difference between high and low margin brands and categories and agree with his analysis.

Don’t Trust, Verify!

Ryan’s article is the only one I’ve seen that fact-checked Petco’s announcement.  Press coverage of the Petco “no artificial” announcement took the company at their word. If other retailers mentioned it at all, it was generally seen as positive.  Dog food buyers tend to trust their emotions and believe dog food marketing claims that often contain a fair bit of puffery.  I often see dog food and dog treat brands launched with an origin story that involves one person and one pet’s nutrition challenges. Dog owners need to be skeptical of these brands and more accepting of claims made by companies with years of experience based on feeding trials involving many dogs.

Ask Experts and Read the Fine Print

An experienced marketer’s eye can see when a product is being described in boastful rather than verifiable language. Learning petfood labeling jargon is a nerdy task that involves searching industry association sites for definitions but for me, it’s worth the effort.  If you want to become a nutrition and labeling nerd, great!  If you don’t, talk to breeders, kennel and rescue operators, and veterinarians who have practical experience caring for dogs for food recommendations.  Marketing is all about building desire so the retailer can sell what’s in inventory, if you can’t read between the lines, don’t trust it!

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

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Great Source for Dog Marketing Intelligence

Pet Business Professor logo

Barriers to entry are low in many sectors of the dog-related industry.  Which means that there are many small businesses marketing products and services for dogs and other pets.  Many dog product entrepreneurs are fueled by their passion to solve a problem they experienced with their own pets which inspired them to launch their business.   They start with an idea, develop a product or service and then start selling with limited resources for marketing support, let alone market research and analysis.

Enter John Gibbons, the Pet Business Professor.  John maintains a website where he publishes detailed analyses of public data about pet spending, discusses industry trends, and offers guidance on how to get the most out of pet industry trade shows.   This information can help pet businesses of all sizes, but I think should be of particular interest to small companies without the resources to dig into all this data themselves.   I suspect even many mid-size to large businesses are not doing this type of in-depth analysis of data that is publicly available, but not user-friendly in its original form.

You can subscribe to The Pet Business Professor blog via email to get updates when a new article is published.  The industry deep dives don’t come out very often, but they contain a treasure trove of information.  In the weeks leading up to major industry trade shows, like Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo, the Pet Professor will publish maps and attendance strategy guides to help you map out a plan of attack to get the most out of these vast displays from pet product purveyors.

I recommend that everyone in the dog marketing space visit The Pet Business Professor website, you’re certain to learn something of value.

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Promoting Michigan Dog Events, Products, and Services

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide is a unique publication targeted to dog owners in Michigan.   Beth Mitchell launched this guide to dog-related events, products, and services in Michigan in 2015 and it has steadily grown as more organizations and advertisers contribute.

Beth was inspired by the Arizona Equine Resource Guide,  published by her sister who is active in equine events in that state.  Beth didn’t have a horse, but she does have a dog, and she had spent a lot of time and energy finding the best resources to train her dog and resolve some behavior issues.  She thought there had to be other people looking for a central repository of information on dog events and dog-related services, so the Michigan Canine Resource Guide was born.

Beth started gathering content for the publication in 2014, creating a dog-themed cover and using her sister’s equine guide as an example of the type of content (with horses) that would be featured.  She had booths at dog shows and dog expos around the state and asked people she met at those events how they publicized their events, then explained how the Guide could expand their audience.  She also asked for referrals to other types of events and host organizations she should include.  She solicited ads from other event vendors and asked for referrals to canine professionals, retailers, and manufacturers to find other potential advertisers.  Many lunch hours on her day job included ad sales calls!  Event-giving clubs and organizations are encouraged to contribute dog events for the calendar to help make the publication as complete as possible; there is no charge for the listing.  Advertisers not only appear in the publication, their events are promoted through weekly emails, they are listed in an online directory, and they contribute articles and blog posts that appear in the publication, on the website, or both. Beth retains a creative director who produces ads and other content as needed and has several part-time ad salespeople recruited from the dog community.

The publication is still promoted through booths at select dog events, and every year Beth attends new events to reach a wider audience.  The guides are distributed free at dog events, participating businesses, and pet specialty retailers.  The guide can be viewed interactively online or downloaded in pdf format from the Michigan Canine Resource Guide website.   In addition to the guide itself, the Michigan Canine Resource Guide has an online calendar of events on their website, a directory listing for all advertisers,  and blog posts on a variety of canine topics.  The Guide also has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter (@MiDogGuide) accounts. It stays in contact with dog enthusiasts through an opt-in weekly newsletter and advertisers also have an option to send sponsored emails to subscribers.  As the publication has grown, Beth has upgraded her marketing tools and currently uses WordPress for the website and MailChimp to manage her email subscription list.

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide has grown steadily in event listings, advertisers, and circulation since its launch.  Beth’s goal is to provide all Michigan dog owners with the resource they need to find local businesses, services, and events that will enable them and their dogs to live a healthy, happy life together. The biggest challenge is getting ALL the dog clubs in the state to contribute information about their events in a timely manner, so the event calendar is as comprehensive as possible.  Beth hopes that as the Guide becomes more and more of a “must have” for Michigan dog lovers, every canine organization or business will feel it’s an important element in their promotional plan.

 

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Del Monte Brands Sponsor Pet Blogger Event

Blog Paws LogoMediaPost reported on DelMonte’s sponsorship of a pet blogger conference, BlogPaws,  April 9-10, 2010 in Columbus Ohio.  The conference is open to all people who blog about pets, whether personally or for a corporation. Del Monte’s Meow Mix cat food and Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food are the presenting  sponsors, and are joined by a host of other pet food, pet product, pet retailer, veterinary, and pet media sponsors.

BlogPaws conference sessions help attendees create successful blogs, covering  branding, search engine optimization, promotions, and  some of the most common pet blog topics, like product reviews and rescue.  You can follow the conference on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

It’s killing me that I entered dog shows on the same dates before I learned about this event – I would love to go!

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Purina Petcentric Portal

PetCentric Logo
PetCentric Logo

I recently got my first email from Petcentric with a link to their site, which launched in 2006.  In a 2008 article in Promo Magazine the site is described as a social network, however most of the content is provided by the site’s owner, Purina and select partners, such as Yahoo! Answers (pet section.) There is content galore, including news about pets, pet blogs, pet games,  reviews, a pet service locator and pet photos and videos, which include user-generated content.  The site also has its own Twitter account @petcentric There is very little overt promotion of Purina products, although Purina sponsored events are a rich source of content for the site.  Just further evidence of Purina’s commitment to digital media with this engaging site that supports pet owners interests and in turn the Purina corporate brand identity.

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Petco is all over Social Media

Petco Logo
Petco Logo

An article from the San Diego Union Tribune talks about the social media strategies of two area businesses, one of which is Petco.   Petco learned that employees were talking about the company on both Facebook and Twitter and decided to leverage those tools for the brand.  On Facebook, Petco has both a fan page and a group; the group encourages people to become a fan.  Petco also has an official Twitter account a YouTube channel and a blog on their main site; links to their social media accounts appear on the blog page. Not only does Petco use popular social media sites extensively, they also promote a pet-centric online community with zootoo.com through the Petco.com site.

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Dogtime Media’s Save-a-Dog Facebook app

MediaPost reports that Dogtime Media has just launched the Save A Dog Facebook application with the support of Frontline as its exclusive advertiser through September. The application allows users to check out adoptable dogs by breed and location, and then virtually foster, walk, and send dogs to their friends. Points are earned for downloading the app and all virtual interactions with the rescue dogs.

For every 2500 points earned, DogTime will donate the equivalent of one cup of food to rescuegroups.org, a technology provider which creates online solutions for rescue groups and will use the funds to lower the costs of their services to those groups.  This is the first time I’ve seen an organization looking for volunteers to provide technical services rather than the traditional food, toys and pet supplies for rescue.

A comprehensive campaign is planned utilizing DogTime’s network of advertisers, bloggers, and newsletter subscribers as well as its Twitter stream. Partners Frontline and rescuegroups.org will also participate in campaign extensions.

A personal criticism of the application’s functionality: The breed selection tool could be better, as my search for Bull Terriers near my zip code yielded hundreds of pit bulls, but I saw no actual “English” type Bull Terriers such as I own. Which reflects the balance of those breeds in rescue, I’m sure, – I just wish the listing “Bull Terrier” was better targeted to match the dogs.  This problem may be limited to breeds with similar names, but it reduces the attractiveness of the app for people who can’t find dogs like the ones they own to send to people who also own those dogs (who happen to make up the majority of my Facebook friends.)

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AOL PawNation

MediaPost reports that AOL has just launched a pet portal named PawNation.com.  This news comes just shortly after Yahoo! closed its Pets section, integrating that content into its Shine lifestyle section.  Purina, noted as the launch sponsor seems to be the only display advertiser at present, although text ads also appear in some sections. The photo gallery section offers pet owners opportunities to upload their photos for integration into the site.

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Smucci Fashion Pet Beds

As promised,  I’m returning to my Detroit Kennel Club vendor interviews with a profile of  Smucci custom pet beds. The owner/artist Debi Kahn was doing interior decorating when she got the idea for making beautiful furniture that doubled as pet furniture. She blogs about her DKC experience and includes some great photos from the event. Some of the inspiration came from her own pets; one of her cats likes to nap in the bowl shaped washbasins in her home, so she created wooden bowl beds for cats.  Debi used some of her own photographs to create the fabric designs used in most of the beds; the photos are transferred to fabrics using a very high quality printing process that retains that photographic quality feel. The wooden bases for the beds have an artistic flair as well. Most have a high fashion modern art look, but one resembles a manger and the accompanying pillow is printed with a design based on a photograph of a slice of straw bale.   Most of the beds unfortunately would probably not withstand the presence of a young Bull Terrier, but I’m sure  many smaller and older pets would enjoy these artful comforts. Wonderful to see another person making pet furniture that fits in to a stylish decor.

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#woofwednesday

A dog-twist on the Twitter phenomenon called #followfriday. Pawluxury, a dog products site that really gets social media launched this new hashtag today. They’ve asked their followers to recognize quality dog-topic tweeters with the hashtag signifier. According to Real Time Trends, it’s been in the top 10 hashtags (#7) today.  I’ll  be checking them out to find interesting new tweeps to follow myself.

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