Marketing In the Gray Zone with Canine Cannabanoids

cannabis plant leavesProducts including hemp for dogs as well as humans are being introduced and promoted at a breakneck pace.   The editor of Petfood Industry weighed in on this topic in the July 2018 issue.  One of the most interesting things about this trend from a marketing standpoint is the legal standing not only of these products but also of the terms used to describe them. The products go by a variety of names, including CBD (cannabidiol) and PCR (Phyto-Cannabinoid Rich) or just simply hemp oil.  While marketing emphasizes that these products do not contain the psycho-active THC chemical, images of cannabis leaves are freely used in promoting the products, acknowledging the heritage the product shares with THC-rich marijuana.

The legality of the product itself is a subject of debate, with the product providers claiming any product free of THC is legal, while the U.S. government says they most decidedly are not.  Veterinary Practice News discussed some of the pros and cons of providing hemp oil options to patients in a July 2018 article. That said, what is most commonly referred to as CBD oils are being sold for both human and animal use with many retailers deciding to take the risk, and the first product containing CBD oil was recently approved as a human anti-seizure drug by the FDA.

In addition to the challenges of promoting a product which fits into a niche category that’s in a legal gray area, there are likely issues coming with the naming of these products as the manufacturer of the first FDA approved drug has applied to trademark the term “CBD”  and is expected to actively protect that trademark. Bark Avenue blogged about the challenges of marketing their CBD-labelled dog treats. 

I will watch with great interest as the questions of legality, nomenclature, and efficacy are explored, as more manufacturers and retailers decide to jump on the trend.  Stay tuned for updates to this post.

 

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.

 

Marketing Boosts Grain Free Dog Food Sales

Grain free dog foods are the fastest growing segment of the dog food market, up 9% in the past year, while sales of foods with grains are down slightly. Over half of all new dog foods introduced in 2017 were grain free, and companies that stated earlier they would not jump on the grain free trend have joined in, according to an article in the January 2018 edition of Petfood Industry magazine. This is one of the most striking examples of how pet food trends follow human food trends, and a great example of opportunistic product development and marketing driving the trend.

The parallel trend in human food is the growth of gluten free foods, which have seen sales increase steadily over the past several years.  A look at Google searches for gluten-free food and grain-free dog food show the dog food trend is trailing the human trend, but following a similar trajectory.

 

Given the interest in grain free foods, pet food companies are more than willing to fulfill demand by offering more of these premium priced foods. Marketing for these foods emphasizes what is not in the foods rather than what is in the foods and implies that these processed foods are more like what wild canids eat than other processed foods whose carbohydrates are provided by grains rather than starchy vegetables and legumes.

While there is no question that qluten-free foods are essential for the health of humans with celiac disease, they are being sought out and consumed by a much wider group of the U.S. population who believe these products promote health in many ways that have not been scientifically confirmed.  Similarly, grain-free dog foods make sense for dogs  with known allergies to specific grains, they are also being fed to a much wider group of dogs. The veterinary community is not convinced grain-free foods are  more beneficial than other well formulated foods. 

It will be interesting to see how long grain free products continue to show above average growth, as two other human diet trends, paleolithic diets and ancient grains, are starting to emerge in commercial dog food.

I’m Back!

pet supplies plus logo

 

I’m back from my hiatus from blogging while I was working at Pet Supplies Plus in their corporate headquarters, aka Pet Central as a Marketing Analyst. I thought my job and this blog might be a little too close for comfort for their social media policy. That job was eliminated in January, so I feel free to blog again!   I’ve been invited to talk about this blog at the upcoming WordPress Detroit Meetup on April 9, 2018 and hope to have more new content to share there.

DOGTV – The First Television Channel for dogs

Dog TV logoThis week the New York Times reported on a new cable channel, Dog TV; the story was also picked up by MediaPost.  The first thought that came to my mind, was how are they monetizing this? What advertiser in their right mind would buy space targeted to the canine demographic?  Turns out it’s a pay channel, now only available in San Diego, as an online stream, and an iPhone app.  A national launch is in the plans for late this year.

The premise is that Dog TV is something for your dog to watch while you’re not home, helping to relieve dog owner guilt at leaving the dog alone, further proof people want to offer services for their dogs as they would for human family members.  The channel also purports to help dogs acclimate to a variety of sounds and encourages the dog to relax at certain times and be alert at others.  I’ve spent enough days home with my dogs to know that adult dogs spend most of the day sleeping; I’m not sure they’d go out of their way to wake up for a favorite program.

Overall, the channel is doing a  great job with PR and social media getting the word out as they work toward a the national rollout.  I’m not sure I’ll be popping for an additional premium channel for my dogs, but I’ll check it out if appears in the local cable lineup.

 

Lose Weight in 2012 with Purina and Jenny Craig

project-pet-slim-down lgogPet Product News reported on  a co-marketing promotion between two of food giant Nestle’s divisions, Jenny Craig weight loss and Purina pet foods work together to promote weight loss for both pet owners and their pets.   Project Pet Slim down is  marketed  through veterinarians as a New Years resolution for the pet and is not mentioned on either the  Jenny Craig or Purina  web sites.  The Project Pet Slim down site has information on assessing your pet’s condition, tips for getting your pet more active, pet weight loss reality show videos  and reference to weight loss pet foods available by prescription from Purina.  The Jenny Craig part of the program is optional for pet owners and offers a 30-day trial to the program (food sold separately.)

The New Year’s resolution tie in is a twist I haven’t seen in marketing diet pet foods before, and another validation of  the pet humanization trend. While I doubt many pets are looking to make changes for the New Year, obesity in American pets is a growing problem, just as it is in their owners. I applaud Purina for making the effort to promote better health in both pets and their owners.

Bingo Pet Salon Offers Upscale Pet Services

Bingo Pet Salon StorefrontSoutheast Michigan’s local MetroMode media outlet reported on Bingo Pet Salon an upscale pet business opening in Royal Oak, one of the hippest inner ring Detroit suburbs. Bingo Pet Salon offers a contemporary look and feel and in addition to dog and cat grooming services, offers pet sitting and locally made specialty pet products, including personalized collars.  Located near the heart of the walkable downtown Royal Oak shopping district, the salon offers pet owners the opportunity to drop off their pets for grooming, take their time shopping and dining and then pick up their pet on the way home.  The business offers a free photo share for pet-sitting clients who become fans of the salon on Facebook.

This savvy business is taking advantage of a great location to position the typical time required to groom a pet as a benefit to their busy owners. Their pet sitting services include free email or text updates to out-of-town owners, with an upgrade available to include photo messaging about the pet.  The merchandise offered aligns with the trend to “buy local” and offers unique items which are in keeping with the boutique nature of human clothing and accessories sold in the Royal Oak shopping area.  The hours of operation are  targeted   to working pet owners, open every day except Monday until at least 6 PM and until 7PM on Friday and Saturday.

Blame Dog Owners, not Marketing for Overweight Dog Epidemic

48 Pound Norwich Terrier
APOP Photo of Obese Dog

Petfood Industry reported on the pet obesity epidemic, which mirrors that found in the human population.   Research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention finds that about half of all pets are overweight and roughly 20% of those are obese.  The APOP has conducted annual pet weight surveys since 2007 and has found an upward trend  in the proportion of overweight pets that are obese.    It appears that the culprit is not the shift to more premium brands of dog foods (low-calorie dog food sales are up) but that the dogs, like people, are snacking more often and eating more high-calorie snacks than in the past. Dog treats are one of the fastest growing pet food categories and like human foods, often very calorie dense.  Owners admit to indulging their pets with treats, and use of this “affordable luxury” may be spurred by the challenging economy.

The solution, just as for human weight loss, is more attention to a balanced diet, which for dogs is easily achieved by feeding a high quality balanced dog food, avoiding snacks, and regular aerobic exercise – which can aid in keeping their owners at a healthier weight as well.

Christmas Gifts for Dogs

Dog carrying her wrapped Christmas giftIt looks like good news for pet retailers this holiday season. An annual AP-Petside poll conducted by GfK found that pet owners are planning on spending more on their pets’ Christmas gifts in 2011 than in 2010.  About half (51%) of pet owners plan to buy their pets a Christmas gift, a percentage which has held steady for the past 3 years.   The average expenditure planned is $46, up from $41 last year, with as you might expect,  more affluent households planning to spend more.

Toys are the most popular Christmas present for dogs, followed by food or treats.  Bedding, clothes and grooming supplies round out the top five gift categories for dogs, although one might wonder if those last two are gifts dogs would choose for themselves!

Arf Van Furniture for Dogs by Art Van

Arf Van LogoHome Furnishings Business reports on the launch of Arf Van home furnishings for dogs from Art Van Furniture.   This is the first human furniture player I’ve seen enter this area; the products range from modestly priced dog beds which are similar to those sold in pet stores to hard goods which resemble traditional furniture.   Prices seem in line with Art Van’s moderately priced home furnishings for people.

With dogs considered an integral member of many families, there is definitely a market for dog furnishings  designed to blend in with the overall home decor.  Art Van’s entry into this market is reminds me of Bed Head’s introduction of the Pet Head line of hair and skin care products for pets. The furniture is currently on display in select Art Van stores, but must be ordered either in-store or online. Arf Van items can be shipped to any Art Van retail store at no charge.