Once regarded primarily as guard animals, dogs were traditionally fed table scraps to make them strong and ferocious. But with the advent of apartment living two decades ago, South Koreans now view canines as pets to be pampered with nutritious food.
"Koreans have traditionally lived in large houses where three generations lived together. But things have changed a lot in the past 10 to 20 years and so have the lifestyles of Koreans," said Ministry of Information Director Moon Cho Lee. "They now live in smaller apartments with a nuclear family [and don't keep guard dogs] .*.*. Therefore the concept of pet food should change as well."
That slow realization started the move toward pet food advertising, begun last November by Mars Inc.'s Pedigree. While pet food ads had never been banned in South Korea, they were considered bad form in a country where many consumers still acutely remember poverty and hunger that accompanied the Korean War in the 1950s.
Mars last June took the step of asking the Korean Broadcasting Commission whether the federal agency would object to the ads. "At first, we had trouble with the Pedigree campaign [last summer], since we thought that some consumers would think, `Buy pet food when there are starving people?"' said Jae-Choel Kim, commission managing director.
For that reason, there were a limited variety of locally produced and imported Western pet foods available, but they simply weren't advertised.
"I don't think any pet food company has bothered to make an ad until now, thinking it wouldn't be so effective," Mr. Kim said.
Mars is the first to target owners of the nation's 254,000 dogs. But ad executives expect others to follow suit to tap the fledgling $5 million market.
Mars' spots, created by Diamond Ad here, were created to avoid consumer sensitivity over the campaign's subject, said Account Executive James Lee.
The commercial shows healthy pooches running, with a a voice-over from an actor posing as a veterinarian describing Pedigree as containing protein, fat and calcium. The actor then says, "Don't they look very healthy? To raise excellent dogs, feed your dogs Pedigree."
That healthy glow comes at a premium price. A single-serve can of Pedigree costs about 88 (cents), or about two-thirds the cost of a loaf of bread.
The ads are a hit with dog owners. "Although I could find imported pet food in the store, it never occurred to me to feed it to my dogs," said Jong Sung Park, a 48-year-old housewife with two poodles. "But after seeing the commercial, I would like to try and feed them Pedigree and see if they like it."
So far, Mars hasn't begun marketing food for cats, a less highly regarded animal here. The government doesn't even track feline ownership, known to be much smaller than that of dogs.