Pets are serious business. Britons’ spending on pets will surpass £4.6bn for the first time in 2015 as animal lovers spoil their cuddly critters with quality diets, beauty treatments, exercise regimes and designer outfits. Will we break another record this year? Probably. Because today 9 out of 10 pet owners see their pet as a member of the family.

In creating brand campaigns not only for Purina Pet Care, but also for sports apparel, automotive and food and beverage brands, PET SUBJECTS sees pets everywhere. Literally–there are at least three dogs in our offices every day! And we’re not the only ones surrounded by pets. After 20 years of gradually increasing pet ownership, today in the UK there are more than 9,000,000 dogs or 24% of all households have a dog and 18% of all households have a cat. Also, 62% of American own pets.

Brand managers are taking notice. For example, Budwieser put a dog at the centre of it’s 2015 Super Bowl commercial “Lost Dog – The Bud Puppy” and VW Polo had the singing dog, ThinkBox had Harvy “ Special Friends” and of course there are Andrex and Dulux all of which put dogs centre stage, making the human families little more than a backdrop.

Instead of using the clichéd metaphor of the squirrel saving acorns, Travellers Insurance created a engaging series of TV ads in which a family dog safeguards his most precious asset, his bone. More Than created “Lucky” the dog campaign. Subaru built an entire marketing campaign and website for one of it’s cars around dogs, declaring the car “dog-tested” The Facebook page even provides dog driver’s licenses. It’s a genius move.

Our deepening identification with pets creates a big opportunity for brands. While today most of the money spent on pets is for food, veterinary care and boarding, trends suggest a willingness to indulge our pets in other ways. Today’s pets travel and exercise with us, have their own social-media accounts, require stimulating day care, eat organic food, doze on luxury fabrics and even drink doggie beer. The opportunities for brand extensions seem almost limitless. Like ThinkBox, MoreThan, Budwieser, Travellers, Subaru and VW, brands that recognise pet love can make stronger connections with their customers.

Here are some guidelines for marketers in and outside the pet category who want to reach pet owners:

  1. Connect your brand to activities customers do with their pets. There are plenty of options: Britians are extending their lifestyles to their pets and investing in their fulfillment. They don’t just go on a run with their dogs–they talk to them, watch TV with them, buy them holiday gifts, have their portraits made. Those lifestyles aren’t always healthy–56% of dogs in the UK are overweight–but pet owners aspire to give their furry friends the best of everything.
  2. Don’t just include a pet in your branding for a quick jolt of cuteness; make the pet the hero of your story. That’s what VW and Subaru did so effectively. The humblest of pets can play this role: for a Lloyds TSB ad and Facebook page, the star is a Pampered Hamster.
  3. Create campaigns that elicit interaction from pets. Think scented print ads, Nestle’s television ad with a dog whistle humans couldn’t hear, or Purina’s iPad game for clever cats. Don’t think cats are

For an even deeper connection with pet owners, go beyond branding and consider where your company can find opportunity in serving their needs. The automotive sector might be in the lead with this brand strategy trend (Our research shows that 19% of Britains buy cars with their dog in mind), but almost any brand can take advantage of this opportunity. If you run a hotel chain, don’t just offer pet-friendly rooms. What are guests supposed to do with their pets during the day? Think about extending your brand to on-site pet day care.

If you’re a retail brand, consider the example of IKEA Germany, which built “dog parking lots,” astroturf beds where dogs hang out while you shop. This move not only bakes the idea of pet-friendliness into the core service, it adds real value to people’s lives.

Airlines should sit up and take notice of Airlines with pet flight safety guarantee. People who have their pets groomed regularly, feed them quality specialty food, and find kennels insufficiently pampering will be all too happy to pay for safe, stress-free air travel for their canine or feline family member. They might even enter Fluffy or Fido in a pet frequent flyer program.

There are logical connections between natural foods and pet nutrition, financial services and pet insurance, or a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner and one that can handle pet hair. Furniture designers could create pet-oriented and pet-proof furniture and fabric. Even a fashion brand like Mulberry can appeal to pet owners–check out the high-end label’s seasonal collars and coats for dogs

It’s hard to say for sure why Britain’s bond with pets is growing stronger. Perhaps it’s because pets provide some of our most enduring relationships: first marriages last a median of eight years, but life with a dog or cat can extend far beyond a decade.

Research has shown pet ownership has health benefits, including lower stress and anxiety. Scientists also believe that our reliance on pets is hardwired into our brains, because our survival and evolution depended on animal companionship. But whatever the reason, trends show that pets are one of the most meaningful ways to engage consumers and that is why we undertake our annual Pet Census. To investigate these finding further or to see how we help so many brands please do get in contact

– we don’t bite and serve great coffee!