From Subaru’s “Dog Tested, Dog Approved” campaign to a cat helping Wells Fargo advertise its suspicious card activity alert services, marketers have used canines and felines to sell products for decades.
It’s easy to see why. More than two-thirds of American households own a pet. Nearly one in five households acquired a cat or dog following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But not much research has been done to examine how pets actually influence consumption behavior. That’s what Darla Moore School of Business marketing associate professor Xiaojing Yang wanted to study. Yang, along with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, examined the effects of pet exposure on consumers’ subsequent judgments and decisions, even in ads that are not focused on pet products.
“The Pet Exposure Effect: Exploring the Differential Impact of Dogs Versus Cats on
was published in the Journal of Marketing. Exposure to dogs, the researchers found, makes consumers more promotion-focused, meaning they will become more eager in pursing a goal and more risk-seeking when making decisions. Exposure to cats, meanwhile, may make consumers more prevention-focused and cautious. That may be because the pets remind consumers of the stereotypical temperaments and behaviors of dogs and cats.
The study’s findings offer important insights into pet-based marketing strategy. For example, dogs may be more appropriate in ads for products such as sports cars, while cats may be a better choice for products such as insurance.
“Marketers should consider crafting their advertising messages differently or recommending different products and services when they target consumers depending on their pet-exposure situations,” Yang says. “Importantly, our findings show that this advice holds even when the advertised product or service has nothing to do with pets or pet products.”
Yang said the next direction for the research will be to look at the role of culture in determining the role pets have in marketing.
“We focused on American participants in our studies,” he says. “In many Western countries, pets are treated like friends or family members, and thus it is possible they are more influenced by them. But in some other countries — ones whose social structures are more hierarchical — people are more likely to view pets as possessions, and it’s possible their consumption choices would not be influenced in the same way.”
Yang is also interested in researching how pet exposure affects other types of consumer behavior. For example: Can animals influence conspicuous consumption, the practice of purchasing luxury items such as shirts or handbags with large logos that are designed to serve as symbols of wealth?
“One possibility is exposure to dogs will make people more likely to engage in it because dogs remind people of openness and expressiveness, whereas exposure to cats is less likely to make people engage in it because cats are more reserved,” he says.