Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dogs, Cats, Kids and Their Parents!

In over twenty years of targeting products and services to kids, I have also frequently been assigned the task of marketing to dogs and cats. The similarities and differences are not only interesting, they are often amusing. As it turns out there are far more similarities than differences.

As those of you who market toys likely know, the relationship between mom and her kids changes radically from pregnancy up through adulthood. I have worked with mothers on the Gerber brand who were vehement about what they allowed on the bottoms and in the bellies of their little darlings. Then, five years later I successfully marketed Totino’s Pizza Snacks and Bagel Bites for them to feed their kids after school. Go figure that.

While the stages along the way remained the same baby, infant, toddler on up through tweens and teens they have all matured greatly in recent years. I can recall when Barbie was a valid brand up through twelve or so. Now even the American Girls Collection is well below that in spite of a significant positioning effort to the contrary. Unlike boys, girls and their parents, dogs and cats have a very different relationship pathway with their parents.

While the fundamental nature of dogs and cats is different from kids, they are alike in that their parents treat all pets with a great deal of care in their initial stages of ownership. I can say with confidence, the abundance of love showered on both kids and all animals is essentially the same in its intensity. The difference is that the parents of pets seem to get even more attached and more protective about their care and feeding as they age. I don’t think dogs and cats will ever experience the joys of noshing on a Totino’s pepperoni pizza. Yes, the parent of an eight-year-old kid is far more careful about what they feed their pets than they are what they feed their kids. I can only guess this phenomenon exists because of the relatively helpless nature of pets as opposed to kids as they mature.

In recent months, I have become aware of the sensitive nature of the “home alone” phenomenon. It is generally accepted, and easy to understand, that you would never leave a child home alone. Guess what? There are twelve million small dogs in the US that are left at home alone and while that is not generally thought of as a terrible thing, their owners suffer tremendous guilt. These people love their dogs as much as parents love their kids, and due to circumstance are forced to leave them at home alone inside the house on a regular basis. They love the dog far too much to find it a new home and at the same time hate the fact that they leave it alone. This phenomenon is what I call a marketing opportunity.

So, next time you are store-checking toys, I recommend you consider driving to the nearest PETCO. The first thing you will notice is that pet marketers are no less thorough in providing products to accommodate pets than are toy marketers as featured in the kids department at your local Target. In fact, the categories are titled very much the same. Food, hair care, skin care, medical care, yes, toys too and most of them are segmented into appropriate age groups…just like kids.

The opportunity here is not in the products you will find, but in the characterization of their benefits, attributes and other positioning elements in their selling propositions. Pet owners see their pets very much in the same way the parents of kids do. They look for toys that allow them to participate in the play as well as toys that will entertain the animal without them having to supervise. They are concerned about the safety of the toy as well as how much “play value” is in it for the animal. And, there are toys that are used to educate. All of this should sound very familiar.

My advice is that you go from product to product and study the copy and graphics that are used to communicate. You will discover that many are similar to those used in the children’s toy category but you will also find new perfectly appropriate ways to characterize kids products that have been effective at stimulating purchase to pet owners.

A few years ago, I found the words “Outrageous Flavor” on a dog treat and used it successfully on a nationally branded kids cereal. It functioned successfully as a remarkable trigger, and scored very well in volumetric research. Good luck.


Keith Chambers

Keynote Marketing Speaker
Creative Marketing Consultant
(310) 473-0010
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