Premium dog food sounds like a tough sell in developing markets. But Mars sees things differently.
Even with economic troubles in developing countries roiling global equity markets of late, the company is putting high hopes on those countries driving premium dog food brands, specifically its flagship Pedigree.
Pedigree's current global "Feed the Good" campaign, though inspired by BBDO Chairman-Chief Creative Officer David Lubars, has its roots in developing markets, with the first and to-date most prominent creative coming from Almap BBDO in Brazil.
"We intentionally want to promote talent and work from emerging markets," said Leonid Sudakov, chief marketing officer, global pet care for Mars. "That will absolutely be good for our brands."
While a third of the global pet-food market is now in the U.S., he said the three fastest-growing markets that Mars expects to account for 50% of category growth in the next five years are Russia, Mexico and Brazil.
"We think there's an opportunity to double the global pet-food category by focusing on emerging markets," he said.
People in those countries love pets, Mr. Sudakov said, but the transition from table scraps to what Mars calls "complete nutrition" has far to go. Brands leading that conversion are the premium ones, specifically Pedigree, rather than cheaper dog food, he said. "Cheaper competitors are just not as credible as someone who provides complete nutrition."
The "Feed the Good" campaign takes a different tack than Mars' traditional hard-benefits-focused, TV-centric advertising to help build that credibility.
"For us, the change has been from rational communications about benefits and nutrition to telling people a story about how by feeding complete nutrition we can extend a pet's healthy life, a pet who you love," Mr. Sudakov said.
Pedigree is Mars' largest pet-food brand, with global sales of $3.5 billion, so it's had plenty of success with its old ways. But Mr. Lubars talked to the brand's marketers about the need to find a voice globally. Ultimately, that "voice" sprang from work Mars' Waltham Institute of Pet Science in the U.K. did with the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. That research documented the positive impact pets have on humans by improving the quality of their lives, social interactions and connection with their communities.
The initial "Feed the Good" video released last year in Brazil shows how adopting and training dogs helped two ex-convicts re-integrate into society (though created by BBDO's Brazilian shop, it focuses on American ex-cons).
A subsequent Australian version shows how rescuing a dog turns tough street youth into softies. A U.S. version released in May shows dog walking helping bridge the racial divide.
The common theme: "Dogs bring out the good in us. Pedigree brings out the good in them."
While Mr. Sudakov declined to release sales figures, he said, "The brand has been accelerating this year, and we're really confident." One direct impact: An Australian retail chain so loved the campaign that it created a promotion effort around it.
Mars plans to keep rolling the campaign globally through January with local efforts for Russia, Western Europe and Asia Pacific, he said.
Beyond video, in New Zealand Pedigree recently created a mobile app that uses the Google geo-located advertising system to alert everyone within a 3-kilometer radius when a dog is lost.
"The idea," Mr. Sudakov said, "is not to focus on advertising per se but also to get out in to mobile content areas that for us before were outside of our viewpoint. 'Feed for Good' really allowed us to think much more broadly about what we do."