Think BR: Catering for a new breed of pet owner

By Marianne Knight, brandrepublic.com, Friday, 31 August 2012 08:00AM

Brits love to talk about the weather but we also love our pets, writes Marianne Knight, associate director, Ipsos Marketing.

Pudsey: Britain's Got Talent winner

Pudsey: Britain's Got Talent winner

On the rare occasion that we do get a lovely sunny Sunday, nothing beats taking your dog for a walk and then sitting down to enjoy a roast dinner in your local pub.

The fact that this year’s Britain’s Got Talent winner was 17 year old Ashleigh Butler and her dog Pudsey says it all - British people love pets.

This is a really significant year for Britain and brands have been working hard to capture and celebrate the feeling of British goodwill.

In T-Mobile’s first ad in their ‘Giving Britain what Britain loves’ campaign, ‘pets’ made the third mention after grannies and marching bands).

Personal experience reinforces this message; a quick log in to Facebook and there’s bound to be at least one picture or video featuring a pet, our staff newsletter has a pet of the month photo corner, and on a more serious note it’s hard to forget seeing a grown - tough looking, 40 something - man break down in tears at the vet when he had to take his beloved dog to be put down.

So why does Britain love pets? As market researchers, we get to explore all areas of people’s lives and we’ve had the opportunity to speak to many pet owners in Britain and around the world - a love for pets is not an exclusively British phenomenon.

A short answer is that pets make people feel good - featuring highly after children and partner - they really are part of the family - and can be much easier company.

What’s more, with the disappearing nuclear family and rise in one person households, pet companions are becoming even more important than ever.

Today’s dogs no longer have to sleep in the kennel outside and have not only made it into homes but often also onto beds.

From our own studies we know that nearly half of dog owners allow their dogs to sleep on their beds.

Ikea has noted this trend and created a unique mattress-testing tool - a crash test doggy and moggy to help customers ensure there is enough room for them and their pets.

We work in partnership with our clients to get them closer to consumers, who are always at the heart of our approach, to help inform their brand strategy and drive growth. Often our clients have a whole portfolio of brands that will need to tap into different consumer needs and motivations (both emotional and rational) - which is why it’s so important to start with people, not brands - in order to identify opportunities in the market.

Today’s brands have to cater to a new breed of pet owner as parent and perhaps this explains why the pet category has proven fairly recession-proof.

In the same way that parents prioritise spending on their children, pet owners will often choose to cut back in other areas - even their own food - rather than cut back spending on their pets.

So it’s clear that we Brits love our pets but what’s also clear is that we don’t necessarily make the right choices for them.

Pet obesity figures are rising dramatically and yet many owners are unaware their pet is obese or don’t understand the damage they’re causing.

This poses the question of whether we love our pets too much; are we killing them with kindness?

There is a definite mismatch between the reality of the situation and what pet owners believe to be true about their own pets; about a third of Britain’s dogs and cats are currently obese, yet we know from our studies that only a minority of their owners acknowledge this.

However, we also know that pet food trends tend to follow human food trends - and given the big and continuing focus on health and wellness for human food, pet food will soon follow suit.

Manufacturers will need to be at the forefront of this trend to help Britain’s pet owners get Britain’s pets in shape.

 Marianne Knight, associate director, Ipsos Marketing

This article was first published on brandrepublic.com

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