Magazine article Marketing

An Animal Instinct for Going Direct

Magazine article Marketing

An Animal Instinct for Going Direct

Article excerpt

AN ANIMAL INSTINCT FOR GOING DIRECT

Friskies Petcare scored a first by launching its own magazine. Louella Miles looks at growing opportunities in the petfood market

Tony Aves does not give the impression of being a revolutionary, but the Friskies Petcare marketing manager has been doing a quiet bit of stirring over the past two years. Since 1989 he has turned a five million name database into a publishing venture which looks set to run and run -- much to the disquiet of the opposition.

Tails, the pet owners' magazine from Friskies Petcare, is coming up to its fourth issue. It is a glossy, stylish publication which could give many newstand publications a run for their money. Yet it is the culmination of a carefully thought-out strategy, direct marketing at its most creative.

Aves fills in on the history of the project. "Basically we got involved in the petfood business following the acquisition of Carnation," he says. "We decided we wanted to be bigger players instead of niche players."

It was no mean target. The brand leader in this industry, worth over 1bn [pounds], is Pedigree Petfoods with (according to Mintel) around 55% of the total volume market. It is followed by Spillers, part of Dalgety, which accounts for 17%, and Quaker, with 15%.

All the major players are big spenders on TV, but Friskies decided to spread its options a bit wider. The first step was to put distance between parent company Nestle and the petfood business, in much the same way that Mars is not mentioned in the same breath as Pedigree Petfoods. Therefore an umbrella brand, Friskies Petcare, was set up from which to launch new products.

The second took research. In that respect Aves was lucky. He had built up a five million name database of pet owners from a major door-to-door sampling operation. It only remained to decide how to use them -- accepting that it was not realistic to mail them all.

"We looked at a number of different ways to use the database," says Jane Boardman, Tails' editor. "One was to set up a club. We put that into research and it appealed to 10% of the audience -- which means we would have lost 90% of our asset.

"Another idea was to look at doing something along the charity route -- like a foundation.

"The third was the magazine. It had to be interesting and relevant. But it would not have worked if we had pretended it was other than from a petfood manufacturer."

This month research data will be available for Aves to determine if it has worked, and what opportunities are open to it in the future -- including the possibility of increasing distribution and accepting third party ads.

The only thing Aves and his direct marketing agency, Evans Hunt Scott/dma, are cagey about is the number who actually receive the publication, although readers' letters suggest there are an awful lot more out there who would appreciate a copy. The agency claims to have feedback from Friskies' rivals to suggest they are upset by the magazine's success and have been trying to verify its circulation.

It throws up some interesting questions about how to crack this market. Advertising obviously builds awareness, but on its own it cannot sustain brand loyalty, neither does it lend itself to targeting smaller groups. This is where direct marketing comes into its own, and why petfood manufacturers find it so attractive.

Even the leader has a healthy respect for it. "We view it as a longer term strategic aid," says a Pedigree spokesperson. …

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