Ads starring cats and dogs affect consumer choices

Ever wondered what effects cats and dogs have on ad success? New research in The Journal of Marketing reveals some extremely interesting findings:

  • Exposure to dogs makes consumers more promotion focused, so they become more eager to pursue a goal and more risk-seeking when making decisions.
  • Conversely, exposure to cats in ads makes consumers more prevention focused, ie they become more cautious in pursuing a goal and more risk averse when making decisions.

consumer choices, consumer behaviour, pets in adverts, griffin media, advertising agencyThese results are supported across multiple product and service contexts. For example, exposure to dogs led research participants to opt for riskier options in decision making, such as choosing the riskier stock investment option. Exposure to cats, meanwhile, led participants to prefer ad messages framed with a prevention focus or messages featuring vigilance appeals.

“These effects occur because pet exposure experiences remind consumers of the stereotypical temperaments and behaviors of the pet species,” explains Xiaojing Yang, one of the research team.

Pets play important roles in consumers’ daily lives. More than half of UK households owned at least one pet in 2021/22. Dogs and cats are the most common household pets, with an estimated 13 million dogs and 12 million cats living in homes.

Furthermore, pets frequently appear in mass media, popular culture and marketing campaigns entirely unrelated to animals. Brands such as Netflix, Mercedes-Benz and Pizza Hut have used cats to boost engagement. Closer to home, Churchill’s British bulldog mascot has been integral to the brand since the mid-1990s.

Implications for marketeers

consumer behaviour, griffin media, advertising agency, pets in advertsMarketeers should consider crafting their advertising messages differently or recommending different products and services when they target consumers depending on their pet exposure situations, the researchers suggest.

Products or services mainly perceived as promotion-focused (eg stock investments or sports cars), featuring dogs in the ad is likely to increase the persuasiveness or the ad.

For products or services deemed more prevention-focused (eg mutual fund investments or health campaigns), featuring cats may increase the ad’s appeal.

“Marketers should ensure that stereotypical pet temperaments are made salient in the message,” Xiaojing Yang advises. “For example, the eagerness aspect of the dog or the cautiousness aspect of the cat should be highlighted. Otherwise, the intended effects of featuring pets in the ad may not be achieved.”

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