Pet adoption and the pet-care industry have ramped up in 2020. Here’s why, and how, brands should get involved with our best friends.
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Working from home has brought about many changes: half-work, half-pajama clothes called Pyjamas, home-schooling woes, and a drastic increase in family time, and time with furry best friends. Folk that didn’t have pets before have now adopted pets or are more inclined to do so. There’s also a large percentage of workers that prefer canines and felines to human colleagues. To be fair, there’s merit in the argument – we all have colleagues we’d swap out. The overall result: there’s been a steep spike in growth in both pet adoption and the pet-care industry.
Before I start barking on about the benefits of these furry family members, I’ve got a confession: I’m a little biased. Full disclosure: I’ve been a proud ‘pet-parent’, have written books about them, and loved travelling with my best friend. However, it also means I’m well-placed as both an observer and a player in this growing market. The pet industry was expanding even before this year as a vast swathe of millennials have embraced pet parenting instead of the real thing, or at least as a prelude. The pet industry was estimated to be worth roughly $64 billion in 2018 and has grown 22 percent in five years, according to market research firm IbisWorld.
However, the increase in WFH has ratcheted up the growth, and the media industry has quickly adapted. Ad spending from pet brands was up 51 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020, according to MediaRadar. The top five companies have collectively already spent over $185 million to promote pet products up until now, and it looks set to ramp up even further.
This offers clear-cut opportunities for brands to either invest directly in the industry or create content that serves this trend. People are either spending more time with their pets or have just started a new relationship with one (or are thinking about it). Either way, the emotional bond and lifestyle focus on pets is a bigger target now for marketers. The numbers provide easy justification: the UK currently faces a puppy shortage and a fourfold increase in waiting lists. There’s also been a 600 percent increase in visits to dog fostering services, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The good news: there are plenty of proven 'pawsitif benefits' to having a pet beyond loyal companionship and instant Instagram success, and most of these have been highlighted in the last six months. The Centres for Disease and Prevention have stated that having pets can help improve your fitness and immune system, keep you safe, lower stress, and help you cope with rejection. They’ve got plenty of specific health benefits: they can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and cortisol - the stress hormone. They can also increase oxytocin, a hormone connected to happiness.
They’re the perfect tail-wagging answer to loneliness, right from youngsters through to the elderly. They’re instant friends for children and can help improve allergies, and are caring companions for people with learning difficulties. There’s even research which shows that dogs can sniff out cancer and even Covid-19!
Paws for Thought
According to UK-based pet charity PDSA, it costs between £4,500 and £13,000 to care for a dog in its lifetime, and up to £425 to raise a puppy. However, that first total can quickly ratchet up to £30 000 if you need surgery or to pay for medical costs and haven’t taken out pet insurance, which in itself is a ridiculously fast-growing business. According to IbisWorld, revenue in pet insurance in the United States has more than doubled in the last five years to reach over $1 billion.
Those first figures from PDSA cover essential costs and don’t include ‘lifestyle’ extras. Some examples: DNA testing; DOGtv (yes, daytime television for dogs); ritzy pet hotels (like Chateau Marmutt); bespoke food delivery plans; fitness trackers; subscription gift boxes; non-alcoholic dog beer; and virtual fences. There’s even an app called Dig, ‘the dog person’s dating app’ which can help find you that special someone (albeit with a compatible pet). Move over Uber and Lyft, there’s also a ride-hailing taxi app specially created to safely move you and your pets.
While the benefits of having pets are vast, there’s also a considerable risk of pets being returned by owners who adopted them on impulse. Pets must be seen as a long-term time, care, and money investment, not just a short-term answer. It’s not just pedigree pups who should be adopted; abandoned pets and rescued pets need to be homed.
Unfortunately, there’s also been a rise in seller profiteering, and even worse, outright fraud. Thankfully, there’s legislation being drafted around the world to help cut down on this abuse. For example, in the UK, there’s “Lucy’s Law” which bans sales of puppies and kittens from third-party sellers.
The Kennel Club, one of the most prominent dog welfare organisations in the UK, has revealed that the search for puppies on their site doubled between February and March this year. Their biggest concern: pets being abandoned once their owners’ lives return to ‘normal’ and spend less time at home. The potential risk of a global recession also means that there will be more families who can’t afford to feed and care for their pets – regardless of whether they’ve had them for years or are newly-adopted. In many countries this is already happening, and organisations like the SPCA in South Africa are crying out for donations (take their one-in-a-million challenge if you can, every little helps). People need to know what it entails to adopt a pet, how to care for them, and what sacrifices need to be made. Also, you’ll need to keep in mind what happens if your WFH setup changes – you’ll need to help them adjust.
Top Dog Brands
Pets, especially cats and dogs, live and travel with us. At Because they’re a part of our culture, the happy distraction, the sudden inspiration and the little bit of magic in our day. They are our personal trainers, therapists, nurses, guides, and partners for adventure and playtime, but most importantly, they’re fully-fledged family members. We rent and buy houses and flats that can accommodate them and pay for services that look after their wellbeing. As a growing industry, there are plenty of touchpoints and human interest angles for marketing, and authentic ways to connect to customers. Pets are good for us, and it makes them, and the industry, an easier sell. Brands who aren’t even in the pet industry take advantage of the bond between customers and their animals by using pets in campaigns or as mascots.
To sum up, the rise in pet adoption and the pet industry offers plenty of commercial opportunities (an area we’re pretty ‘furiliar’ with if you’re in need of some help), but it also emphasises some essential marketing lessons: appeal to your customer’s emotional state, connect your brand to their lifestyle, and focus on the experience that pets provide. Be authentic about it, and everybody and their dog will be buying into your brand.
I’m a media and marketing all-rounder, with 15 years’ experience across a range of channels. I’m fascinated by the shop floor and ‘real world’ and love getting out in the field, experiencing the action first-hand, and gathering and sharing consumer insights and knowledge.