Pets in Print Advertising-Are We Seeing More of Rover and Fluffy? A Content Analysis of Four Popular Magazines

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A dog on a leash pulls its master toward a flock of flushing pigeons in an advertisement for asthma medicine. A cat serenely naps on the couch next to a couple of apartment dwellers fretting about their home loan application in an ad for a mortgage company. A billboard purchased by a check cashing company displays two dogs--a large dog (Big Cash) and a much smaller companion dog (Little Cash).

Our favorite household pets play various roles in advertising--as major players in the key message, as message "catalysts" illuminating a key point, or as background characters that merely set a tone or mood for an ad. The connection they have to the product, service or idea being communicated occasionally is direct (i.e. a pet product), but more often is indirect, and sometimes is, arguably, outright nonexistent (i.e. a golden retriever appears in an ad for medicine). Although advertising creative directors have used dogs and cats in advertising for years, Americans' indulgences in their pets have changed drastically (Kennedy & McGarvey, 2008). Nationally, pets account for more household spending than ever before. Whereas in previous generations, Rover and Fluffy may have gotten a bed, some food and occasional trips to the veterinarian, today's pet owners pour money into such things as designer pet clothes, gourmet pet food, pet daycare, healthcare insurance for their pets and other products and services that make life for Rover and Fluffy more comfortable and secure (Ellson, 2008).

Likewise, the importance pets play in the lives of their owners has increased. More than mere companions, Rover and Fluffy now are likely to be treated by their owners as surrogate children, best friends, and partners that add priceless value to life. Holbrook (2008) agrees the role of pets as animal companions has been well documented. This supports the research of Fielding (2008). Utilizing the November 2007 Harris Poll survey data which found nine in 10 pet owners consider their pets members of their family, Fielding (2008) found women are more likely to support this statement (93% to 84%) and dog owners are more likely than cat owners to consider pets family members (93% to 89%).

If advertising reflects and amplifies cultural values, and if dogs and cats have attained positions of power in American culture, then one would expect to see dogs and cats play more significant or visible roles in advertisers' creative strategies.

The question this research attempts to answer is: How have the changed roles and increased value household pets play in our lives been reflected in advertising?

Financial and Social Significance of Pets

Pets have become a central part of American life and have, in recent years, even been credited with having a direct positive effect on the health of their owners (Allen, 2003). Pet owners represented 69.1 million (sixty-three %) American households and of these households, forty-five % had multiple pets (Wallenfang, 2005). As further reported by Wallenfang (2005), dogs numbered 73.9 million and were present in 43.5 million households while cats numbered 90.5 million and were present in 37.7 million households. As pets have become more and more important in the lives of their owners, it only stands to reason that marketers and advertisers would portray pets more in their communication messages.

Consumers spent $34.4 billion dollars in 2004 (double 1994 figures) and $36.3 billion in 2005 (APPMA, 2006) on their pets (not adjusted for inflation). During the December holidays 55% of dog owners spend an average of $13 on Rover, and although only 37% of cat owners purchase gifts for Fluffy, those who indulge their feline companions spend $30 per cat (Wallenfang, 2005). According to the APPMA National Pet Owners Survey, basic annual expenses for dog and cat owners include:

                           DOG     CAT

Surgical vet visits       $574    $337
Food                      $241    $185
Kennel boarding           $202    $119
Routine vet visits        $211    $179
Groomer/grooming aids     $107    $ 24
Vitamins                  $123    $ 32
Treats                    $ 68    $ 43
Toys                      $ 45    $ 29
TOTAL                   $1,571    $948

While the numbers indicate increased levels of spending for pets, there is also an increase in the types of products purchased for pets. …