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Del Monte Pounces on Gay Pets
"Gay people have a very emotional connection with their pets."
By Michael Wilke


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AUGUST 21, 2003. While Bruiser, the gay dog from "Legally Blonde 2," took the spotlight this summer, Del Monte Pet Products zeroed in on gay pet owners.

The company brought its Pounce and Pup-peroni brands to gay events in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, handing out product samples and pet photo frames to people who took a survey, and offering water to thirsty canines. Empty product packages were collected, each garnering a one dollar donation for local pet support organizations.

Advertisements featuring a French bulldog resting in the grass next to his owner, along with the headline, "Your Pride, His Joy" appeared in gay magazines and Gay.com. A lavender background carried paw prints and illustrations of the dog and cat logos from the brands.

Email outreach to consumers will be conducted through the end of the year. In October, the two brands will also be represented at an annual women's event, this year honoring Whoopi Goldberg, at the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

The Pet Connection
"Gay people have a very emotional connection with their pets, stronger than the general population," notes Jeff Watters, vice president of pet snacks marketing at Del Monte Pet Products. "A year ago, we undertook an in-depth look at our category and noted that the gay community was frankly being underserved and neglected."

Indeed, there is no competition. Back in October 1998, ads for another Del Monte brand, Nature's Recipe, appeared briefly in OUT magazine, but did not continue. No others filled in the gap. In Australia, a few ads for Science Diet from Hill's Pet Nutrition appeared late last year in Blue magazine.

But the potential is now opening up. Historically, once a major brand in any category enters the gay market, its competitors follow. Del Monte itself may commit further with its other big pet brands: Gravy Train, Cycle, 9 Lives, Meaty Bone, Kibbles 'n Bits, and Snausages.

"We're the category leaders and we think we have a lot to offer [the gay market] and they have a lot to offer us."

We Have Furry Kids
Del Monte agency Brand Buzz, a division of Young & Rubicam, worked with consultant Harold Levine to compile research on the market. According to Watters, they found that lesbians and gays are "not unlike empty nester households, where the cat or dog becomes the furry 'kid' — that's a fundamental driver in this community." He continues, "Cats and dogs do not cast judgment on owners or lifestyle."

Like more and more companies, Del Monte introduced the campaign with an ad created specifically for gay consumers, with more representations (read: cat lovers will show up too) planned for 2004. "We decided to customize the ad to be appropriate for the brand personality in a language that would resonate," Watters explains. "It will probably evolve creatively over the next six months as we collect feedback."

Even while ads won't run the remainder of the year, Watters plans to stay longer. "There is a strong conceptual interest in a more sustained effort," he says. "I see it as a three-year process, minimum, to establish our brand." Pre- and post-campaign research will track gay household share of the market the brand gains from its efforts.

While the standard demographic for the products skews older, which is typical for empty nesters, and particularly for buyers of cat treats, the gay age target is a bit younger, according to Watters.

Why Now?
So what brought Del Monte into the gay market now? "There has not been much groundbreaking thinking in this category," observes Watters. "Until recently, this was a staid category that did not have much product innovation. But now there's an emerging view of the importance pets play for the consumer. We hope to be one of the pioneers."

If conservatives balk at the company's arrival to the market, Watters says Del Monte will stay steady. "In the year 2003, let's hope that's not the case, but if so, it will not erode our commitment."

Gay pets and gay owners of pets can feel a bit more accepted with such efforts underway. But as always, good research is the best bet to get the most out of all efforts to provide a happy treat for all. Slurp.

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.



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