Marketing to Our Furry Friends: A Look at Petco

logo_petco-stores_us-2It’s a good time to be in the pet business. 68% of all U.S. households own pets, and the American Pet Products Associations estimates that consumers will spend $59 billion on our pets this year.

To put that in context, Americans spend more money every year on their beloved household companions than they do on booze or men’s clothing. And Pet spending even weathered the recession, staying constant while profits in other sectors tumbled.

Petco, with a little marketing finesse, has been riding that industry success for nearly 50 years. The company, an industry leader, brings in over $3 billion in yearly revenue and employs over 20,000 workers.

So what does marketing look like at a Pet supply giant like Petco? As you might expect, traditional media plays a huge role, but social media and philanthropy are also important pillars of Petco’s success.

Last year, the company unrolled a $15 million campaign to stress the “Co” in Petco, playing off prefixes Latin origin which means “together.” They also changed their tagline from “Where the Pets Go” to “The Power of Together”

The problem Petco faces is a classic one: brand differentiation. Comparing Petco to its larger rival, PetSmart, is like comparing Pepsi to Coke. Both chains market to the same audience and, for the most part, what they sell is very similar. Consumers might not even be able to distinguish one store from the other.

Petco and other pet retailers have a natural edge in the social media game. After all, their product centers around the internet’s lifeblood: adorable animals. Petco supplements their widely shared photos of puppies, kittens and assorted other animals with useful pet information and promo codes.

This summer, Petco is stressing their “What’s on your summer play list” campaign, with a heavy emphasis on their “Do Good” component. While Petco is no stranger to furry philanthropy, like pushing animal adoption drives, their “Do Good” component mixes in new inventive ways to make a difference as part of the overall campaign. Besides encouraging pet lovers to have a summer doggy playdate or growing their own catnip, Petco provides resources for their website’s visitors to schedule a park cleanup or host a fundraiser.

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All of that do-goodery hasn’t gone unnoticed, Petco was announced the World’s Most Ethical Company by an independent research organization. And we know from other studies that consumers will pay more for socially just goods.

Petco also knows how to utilize the power of local. While individual stores often support local animal adoption drives, one store opening in Queens decided to get inventive as host a “Reptile Rally” where kids could learn all about lizards, snakes and geckos.

As the trend of seeing pets as “part of the family” continues to increase, consumers who are willing to spend big bucks on products to “humanize” their animals will only grow in numbers. They’ve even rolled out doggie gyms, for those who want to keep their pets in tip-top shape. Petco, with their “Power of Together,” is poised to maintain a healthy position as America’s best pet supply retailer.