Pet Food Marketers Learn New Tricks

Branded Entertainment Earns a Bigger Share of Budgets as Iams, Meow Mix Roll Out New Programs

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For pet-food marketers, the 30-second spot is going to the dogs. Branded entertainment, however, is the cat's meow.
In November, Meow Mix will premiere its first game show for pet owners, 'Meow Mix Think Like a Cat.'
In November, Meow Mix will premiere its first game show for pet owners, 'Meow Mix Think Like a Cat.'

Awful puns aside, major pet food brands such as Procter & Gamble's Iams and Del Monte's Meow Mix are following their package-goods peers by devoting more of their marketing budgets to branded-entertainment projects and putting less of an emphasis on traditional media spend.

Pets in the spotlight
"The Pet Hour, Presented by Iams," a program P&G co-produced with media agencies Carat and MediaVest, just had its debut on XM Satellite Radio's channel 155. And coming in November, Meow Mix will premiere its first game show for pet owners, "Meow Mix Think Like a Cat," co-created with its media agency, TracyLocke, with the help of marketing agencies Grand Central Marketing, Agency.com and IC Group.

Although branded content is nothing new for either brand, the emphasis on holistic marketing programs is starting to be reflected in the marketers' budgets. In recent years, Meow Mix has focused on creating its own branded series for networks such as Oxygen ("Meow Mix TV") and Animal Planet ("Meow Mix House") and staging pop-up events such as the Meow Mix Acatemy while cutting a significant chunk of its modest marketing budget. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Meow Mix spent $11 million on measured media in 2005, a figure that dropped to less than $8 million in 2007.

Brian Ely, Del Monte's pet-marketing director, said traditional TV advertising still plays a role in larger marketing plans for product launches, but the primary goal for Meow Mix is to connect emotionally with fans of felines. "Creating branded content in less-intrusive ways continues to be challenging to any brand. We have a very well-defined target who feel a very emotional relationship between themselves and their cat. We want to establish that relationship, maintain that relationship and deliver it over time."

Branded entertainment a success
John Bell, client service director for TracyLocke, attributed Meow Mix's sustained market share to the success of its branded-entertainment model, despite the largest pet-food recall the industry has ever seen. "From a pure business-environment standpoint, this shows the power of this type of integrated marketing campaign. Sometimes when times are real tough, intelligent marketing can have an effect on awareness but also on share," Mr. Bell said.
Iams has long integrated its brands into TV and radio shows, but now it is creating its own programs.
Iams has long integrated its brands into TV and radio shows, but now it is creating its own programs.

Iams has also been slashing spending on some of its top dry pet foods, with overall ad spending down from $91.4 million in 2006 to $87.3 million in 2007. Adrian Heney, communications planning director at Carat, said that although pet owners comprise 50% of the U.S. population, reaching them broadly simply won't work. "It's hard to target through mass channels. It's the more targeted channels, where people are literally raising their hands, where we want to be. We're providing content when they're looking for it," Mr. Heney said.

Kris Parlett, a spokesperson for P&G Pet Care, added that Iams has long integrated its brands into TV and radio shows, but creating its own program seemed to be the best solution to communicating some of its more product-specific marketing messages to its target consumer base. "There wasn't a voice or platform to talk to consumers to relay their information or data, so we knew the need was there, and there wasn't a show that met all that criteria."

In addition to airing on XM Friday nights at 6 p.m., "The Pet Hour" is also available for on-demand listening at ThePetHour.com.
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