Our fondness for our furry friends never ceases to amaze. How is it that humans are just as capable of causing bloodshed, waging wars and ruining the environment as they are of selflessly loving pets? Over the past century dogs have gone from personal property to family. Just check out the lingo. They aren’t pets, but fur babies; we aren’t pet owners, but pet parents. The rise of Instagram culture, demand for organic chemical-free food, healthy lifestyles, subscription services, self-care–even craft beer–has woofed its way into pet products and services.
These growing parallels between human and pet consumer culture–the humanization of pets–have fueled pet care innovation since 2015. Only this time, the stakes are much higher. U.S. consumers will spend an estimated $72.13 billion on pets in 2018, compared to a measly $36.3 billion in 2005, according to American Pet Products Association. According to another APPA survey, dogs live in 60 million US households.
Here are a few ways in which businesses have used our dogs’ newfound purchasing power to sell us pet products the same way they do human products–
“Dogs are one of those things that aren’t like political discussions. People love them no matter if you’re from the Mid-West or the East Coast or if you’re right-brain, left-brain. It’s a unifying topic that people love to talk about.”
–– Stacie Grissom, Head of Content at BARK
Stacie’s got a point. Even the most loyal cat person wouldn’t be opposed to sharing a photo of a cute Corgi in a onesie. BARK, a dog products and technology company, puts this insight at the heart of their marketing strategy, which relies almost exclusively on humorous content, conversational commerce and their access to “dog influencers” on Instagram. Its monthly subscription service BarkBox beats big guys like Birchbox, Blue Apron and Dollar Shave Club at social media and online engagement.
San Francisco-based NomNomNow is a fresh dog food company fighting kibble culture with human-grade, gently cooked meals delivered to your doorstep every week. They provide free nutrition consultations, customize recipes, cook with restaurant-quality ingredients and portion every meal. Now that pet parents prefer healthy options from local kitchens over labs, the natural pet food category is no longer niche, but going mainstream.
IKEA is busy doggy-fying human furniture with Lurvig, a 62-item collection designed for pets. Not only has the range been developed for eating, sleeping, playing and being close to humans, but also to discourage behaviors like over-eating and unsafe scratching.
The average pet food aisle in the supermarket looks disappointingly dull–this, despite the fact that 57% of products in the pet care category require a personal shopping trip. Every food company’s packaging resembles the competition. Solid Gold defused some of the confusion in the natural pet food space with a more attractive, edgier brand expression. The vibrant colors, abstract illustrations, fun copy and shiny packaging break the clutter and call out to pet parents who want to give their fur babies the best.
Amazon too has sniffed out the pet business opportunity and launched its own line of products, Wag, planting its paws squarely in territory currently the domain of retail giants like Petco Animal Supplies and PetSmart. Dog food used to be an unprofitable product to sell online because of weight and costly shipping, but Wag will make back those dollars quickly considering that it’s available only to Prime members.
Another product for humans being peddled to pet parents is beverages. Now that many breweries and bars welcome pets, the latest business opportunity is “pooch hooch.” Brands like Apollo Peak, Dawg Grog and Bark Brew produce both beer and wine for pets that come with all-organic ingredients and in different meat flavors. The drinks aren’t actually alcoholic or carbonated, but the packaging is modelled after the quintessential beer bottle. Serve it over kibble, freeze it into ice cubes or pour it plain into a water bowl; now there’s no wrong way to crack open a cold one with the dogs.
Both investors and brands are taking note of the pet care industry. Not only has pet care accounted for twice as much share as center of store over the past five years, the category has generated more grocery store trips than any other. This is good news for manufacturers and retailers, who can use the boost in store traffic as they compete with e-commerce players like Amazon and NomNomNow.
This new wave of pet marketing reveals that the “dogs are people too” mindset isn’t just a trend but a fundamental shift in the way humans treat and view animals. If companies and organizations wish to keep a step ahead of the curve, they could look beyond products and rally around causes that provide comfort and care to our untended fur babies.
Photography: Johan Vipper