Monday, January 26, 2009

Pet food companies cashing in on goodwill

It looks like Purina will be drawing on the success of Pedigree’s campaigns and will be running a Super Bowl ad that focuses on adopting a shelter animal, rather than how (ahem) terrific their food products are for your pet.

I’m like a lot of pet owners who are concerned with the quality of the ingredients that are found in our pet food. So these types of campaigns tend to leave me a bit disoriented. On the one hand, I’m not a huge fan of either company’s products. All too often as I’m reading down the ingredient list there are items listed that I know far too much about, thanks to Ann Martin’s book “Food Pets Die For” and Susan Thixton’s site The Truth About Pet Food. Things I’d rather not have my pets eating. And, to be sure, when people watch the adorable and, in some cases, heartbreaking commercials, sales of their pet food go up. As much as we the public would love to believe that pet food companies are standing up for adoption because they so deeply believe in it, truth is that if the ads didn’t sell dog food Mars (owner of Pedigree) and Ralston-Purina would move on to a new campaign.

Question is, even knowing that their ultimate goal is for people to purchase more of their brand of dog food, are these companies to be applauded for talking about shelter adoption as the way to acquire a pet? Isn’t talking about shelter pets and the importance of adopting worth having to see the company logo at the end of the ad?

For my money, the answer is “yes”. First off, at least the ad isn’t trying to tell my about the incredibly high-quality ingredients that are contained in that cute little bag, which most pet food-educated people know is horse patootie. There are few things that annoy me more than those ads talking about the great premium ingredients, knowing that most people will never actually look at the bag to see the myriad of by-products, chemicals and meal that make up their packaged pet food. The pro-adoption campaigns don't mention the food at all, other than to say that a portion of purchases go to help homeless animals. At least that's a little truth in advertising.

If you go to the Pedigree web site you have to roll over a notation just to get info on their food, evidence of how well their image campaign has gone. Purina is a bit more obvious, but we'll see if the site changes after they unveil their Super Bowl campaign. Still, the food is only one of the items in a web site that's geared much more towards the pet-owner bond than in selling products, which, of course, helps sell product.

Look, these companies are going to sell pet food for as long as people have pets. Are their shelter pet-focused campaigns a bit of shameless manipulation? Of course they are, but if they manage in the context of doing so to do a little good for homeless pets and shelters, so be it.

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