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Entitled. Spoiled. These words used to be synonymous with certain children and, more importantly, reflective of their parents. But chatting with a friend recently, I observed there’s a new “kid” on the block and it looks curiously like man’s best friend. From the cute (doggie ice cream in flavors such as chicken and ham, doggie photographers) to the nutty (doggie dating services, doggie vacation “homes”) to the downright bizarre (decorative dog carpets), Fido is getting the royal treatment from businesses and marketers. And who can blame them? With pets outnumbering people in the United States, it would be foolish for marketers to miss the “bone.” And while part of me can’t help but throw my hands in the air when I hear talk of eco-friendly dogwash and acupuncture for pups and declare “What’s next!,” the Vertical Marketing gal in me can’t help but wonder: What other untapped opportunities are “in the dog house?” And not just for the pets, but, perhaps more importantly, for the people who love them (and who have the money to spend).
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems that in addition to understanding the human consumer, smart marketers should also consider unexpected forces of influence. We all know kids have pull, and now studies suggest that half of all U.S. pet owners consider their pets to be a member of the family. Could “dogfluence” be the new “kidfluence?”
A May 2005 survey from Hartz confirmed what many already know: we’re a nation of dog lovers and loyalists. Approximately 31 percent of women spend more time with their pet than their partner or significant other. For men it’s roughly half that number. And while statistics can tell us things we already know — that Fido makes us happy, loves long walks on the beach and showering us with affection — some other numbers caught my eye. In a BizRate survey of 901 pet owners from the same year, one-third of pet owners claimed they would pamper their animals at a groomer, psychic or therapist (I guess that explains the ice cream!). Less zany to me is the idea of pet psychology, and who isn’t enthralled by the magic of the Dog Whisperer? When they’re not being pampered, pets are traveling; the Travel Industry Association reports 29 million Americans (approximately 14 percent of total animal owners) travel with their pets — and like other numbers, that one is on the rise. My Vertical Marketing coworker Betsy tells me of a canine cruise in her hometown of Chicago that markets itself to dog lovers. In addition to 90 minutes on the open water, passengers get a guided tour of the city’s dog-friendly hotels and restaurants, dog parks and fire hydrants. Perhaps the most revealing, though, was this: In 2004, Americans spent $34.4 billion on their pets, and that number grew the following year. That’s substantially more than the $1.2 billion US consumers spent on m-commerce in 2009. Paris Hilton and other celebs aren’t the only ones outfitting their dogs in blinged-out collars and designer duds.
We’d be wrong, though, to think this trend is only about bones and chew toys and cable-knit sweaters, because the consumer ultimately is wearing the pants and carrying the wallet. Another way to appeal to these consumers is to appeal to their love of dogs (or cats or birds or fish). Respecting and understanding your customer — be they two-legged, or four — is good for any business, and there’s an opportunity here to create products that appeal to the certain pet-loving consumers by acknowledging Fido’s place in the marketplace.
It truly is a doggy dog world, and we’re just living in it. Now, who wants a biscuit?