Sonic branding in the pet industry

By Erin McCullough, Brand Music Consultant at DLMDD, the sonic branding agency. 

Since the start of the pandemic pet ownership across the UK has increased dramatically, with a massive 76 per cent of Millennials now owning pets, according to a recent survey by YPulse. With the largest majority of the largest generation alive now owning pets in their home, it’s no surprise that they have become a key target market for pet brands.

At the same time, UK consumers are spending more and more on their pets. Last year, pet food amounted to a market value of £2.9bn, while the veterinary market was worth £2.1bn.

Pet food aisles in supermarkets are stacked with natural, raw and organic choices, as brands seek to set themselves apart as the most wholesome option. However, pet owners are often reluctant to change brands once they find one that works, so converting consumers can be challenging, pushing brands to find ever more creative ways to do this.

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Across the pet industry, we are seeing more and more brands incorporating music and sound into their marketing strategies as a key way to stand out in this crowded sector, bringing ever more creative concepts and activations to the fore. Just last month, Wiskas created an entire album dedicated to cats, working with Bafta-winning animator and director Nina Gantz and the National Symphony cellist David Teie, to help us better understand why cats purr. Teie is a self-proclaimed animal composer whose work has even been scientifically proven by the Journal of Feline Medicine to reduce the stress levels in cats. He devised both the ad’s soundtrack and an accompanying playlist, which is available on Spotify and YouTube.

So with sound very much on the radar of pet brands, which brands are winning the sonic race?

The Farmer’s Dog used sound to demonstrate the quality of their product with a campaign entitled, ‘The Sound of Real Food’. The ads feature user-generated video content with a loud soundtrack of scoffs and grunts of the dogs enjoying their food, juxtaposed with Beethoven’s Symphony No 7. This is an orchestral, rallying soundtrack that builds to a crescendo. It’s a fun and memorable piece, mixing the sloppy sounds of the happy dogs with the high culture classical music reference to great effect.

Back in 2011, German brand Beneful broke new ground with the aim of using its adverts to speak directly to canines rather than customers. The ad incorporated a squeak to remind dogs of the sound of a chew toy, a high-frequency tone, similar to a dog whistle, which humans can barely hear, and a soft, high-pitched ‘ping’ which can be heard by dogs and people alike. This was a direct pitch to dogs in the hope that they would react to the commercial, in turn generating a positive reaction from their owners. A smart way to own a point of difference.

PetCo’s Christmas ad from 2018, featuring a boy saving up for a bicycle, then using one of the wheels to create a makeshift mobility aid for his three-legged rescue dog is a great example of using music to stir emotions and connect with consumers, showing the emotional impact of the brand. The story is told entirely through visuals and music, with a charming custom piece of music bringing out the sentimentality of the ad.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition has taken a similar approach, using solely music and visuals in their latest campaign, “Poochini”. Making the content much more educational as well as emotive, the campaign raises awareness of the negative effects of feeding pets too many treats. Addressing the issue of pet obesity, the ad takes a delicate approach to show that sometimes the bond with a dog is so strong that even the most committed owner might not realise their extra love is in fact adding extra pounds. 

Created with meme-loving Millennials in mind, Iams have created a song that uses the sounds of dogs and cats as percussive and melodic elements, resulting in a lively and fun Pet Remix. Through home videos of dogs and cats being their unique selves, Iams encourages you to feed the uniqueness inside your pet. The footage feels familiar and easily entertaining without feeling overly branded.

Pedigree makes use of custom music to create their own Christmas carol, the Season of Good Dog, a rewrite of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ with canine-centric lyrics, while PetSmart have created an excellent version of ‘I’d Do Anything’ to showcase the irresistible bond we all have with our pets.

Petbarn’s ongoing campaign, Life’s a Treat, utilises a repeated jingle that is played whenever their logo is shown on screen. An energetic and uplifting track, this adds dimension and distinctiveness to the overall message.

Untapped opportunities

In such a crowded market it is the brands that are willing to take risks and find new, meaningful ways to connect to customer’s emotions that will ultimately win against the big dogs. Pet ownership is naturally a highly emotive sector, so strengthening and leaning on this deep-rooted connection through music and sound is an effective asset for brands looking to stand out.

And with the crossover between sonic branding and the pet industry still relatively unexplored, there is a real opportunity for brands to be bold and claim this space as their own.

Erin McCullough is Brand Music Consultant at DLMDD, the sonic branding agency. 

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