The millennialization of pet care

Mary Zalla

Pet care has become one of the most animated consumer brand categories in recent years. And, the category has even more room to grow because the vitality that defines the category is multidimensional: new consumers, especially millennials and Gen Zers, continue to enter the market; pets are cared for more indulgently, and pet ownership is becoming deeply emotional.

New consumers

Pet ownership is on the rise in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, up from 56 percent in 1988. Generationally, millennials are now the biggest pet-owning generation, with some 70 percent boasting at least one pet. Gen Zs are also enthusiastic about pets: a survey of 1,000 Gen Z Americans ages 11–17 showed that nearly 80 percent have a pet in their household.

Changing pet care

American pet owners are indulging their pets like never before. According to Mintel, last year Americans spent $11 billion on pet pampering alone. One-third of owners said they bought toys for their pets, while 17 percent bought pet costumes and 10 percent shelled out for pet strollers. Millennials are more likely to splurge on their pets than on themselves with luxuries like clothing, gifts, grooming, accessories, services and even pet insurance.

Emotional ownership

It used to be that people had dogs to serve in a guardian or simple companionship role. But pets today are less utilitarian and more central to the emotional well-being of their owners. Consider these reasons behind pet ownership according to Statista 2019:

  • My pet is my best friend                       66%
  • My pet is my snuggle buddy                59%
  • My pet is my child                                 33%
  • My pet is my therapist                          25%

A category that is growing among multiple segments, displays emerging consumer behaviors and has such rich emotions surrounding it is a potential gold mine for savvy marketers. And yet many pet brands aren’t tapping into this when designing for and appealing to these highly engaged, emotionally attached pet consumers.

Here are three things you can start doing today to further strengthen your pet care brand and increase its relevance to pet-owning humans:

Humanize: Whether experts agree it’s a good thing or not, people are humanizing their pet’s environment—“upgrading” products to human standards. Look to overall food category trends to inform pet food trends. Pet food is increasingly health-focused and organic, like human food, and the culinary experience is being enhanced as well with pet food often marketed as “gourmet,” “delectable” and/or “premium.” The same thing is happening with pet toys. Gone are the days when the dog had a toy bone and the cat a toy mouse. Even the toys we purchase for our pets are becoming more relatable and relevant to humans, with chew toys that look like cell phones, dice and bananas. And the humanization of products for pets extends to pet fashion—yes, pet fashion and even pet housewares that complement the owner’s home décor.

Purpose: Given the pivotal and emotional role that pets play in their owners’ lives, smart pet brands can lead with purpose. The purpose can be about various aspects of animal welfare such as food and nutrition, homes for pets without families or stances against neglect or cruelty. Purpose can be environmentally or community-driven. But given the emotional reasons behind pet ownership and the rise of pet ownership among millennials and Gen Zs, ensuring that your pet brand is centered on an authentic purpose that resonates with pet owners should be at the forefront of any serious pet brand.

Engagement: For many millennials, pet ownership is delaying, or replacing, having children. And this is only one of the highly charged, emotional reasons behind pet ownership. And also one of the reasons for an inexhaustible supply of pet content on YouTube and countless other social channels. People love posting and consuming engaging content about pets. What content is most relevant to your brand? Your consumers? Offering relevant, experiential content to your consumers, at the point of purchase as well as between purchases, will keep them engaged with your brand, even as new competitors and offers emerge.

Mary Zalla is global president, consumer brands and managing director of Landor’s Cincinnati office.