Big Brands Still Matter

November 1, 2018

By Crystal Albanese


As start-ups and challenger brands continue to disrupt industries, one traditional CPG brand is holding strong. Mars Petcare, the home to popular pet food brands such as Pedigree, Whiskas, Sheba, and Cesar, has used a mix of old and new tools to deliver strong growth on its billion-dollar brands. At the upcoming 2019 ANA Brand Masters Conference, Melodie Bolin, marketing director at Mars Petcare, will explain why big brands still matter. Ahead of her session, the United States Air Force veteran and "traditional" CPG marketer, talked to us her secret to success, her take on the pet care industry, and what brands need to do to be successful in the future. Here's what she had to say:


Q. It is estimated that pet owners in the U.S. will spend nearly $30 billion dollars in 2018 on pet food, even as they become more discerning with what they feed their animals. How does Mars Petcare stay top of mind, and in the hearts, of its consumers?

The pet care category is such an emotional and engaging category to work in. Pets are family — and we care about what we feed them just as much (if not more!) than we care about what we feed ourselves. At Mars, our mission is to make a better world for pets and this infuses everything we do. We stay top of mind with our consumers by telling emotional or entertaining stories across all of our brands that connect deeply with pet parents — whether that is heart wrenching stories from Pedigree about how dogs make people's lives better or entertaining stories from Temptations that dramatize the unique, quirky fun of cats. We believe in sharing and celebrating the role pets play in our lives.


Q. Tell me a little more about the Pedigree "Feed the Good" campaign. It started a decade ago and really seems to have become a purpose for Pedigree. How did that go from campaign to Pedigree's true brand purpose?

Pedigree is definitely a special brand for us. Many years ago, we recognized a few problems shelters were having, specifically with overcrowding, difficulty in getting the word out about adoptable dogs, and fighting the stigma that there must be something wrong with dogs who are in shelters (which is not true at all). We truly believe that dogs make our lives so much better and felt we had an obligation to try to do something about these homeless dogs. So in 2008, we started a brand campaign to showcase the amazing things that shelter dogs can do and to promote the benefits of dog adoption. This campaign has evolved over the years. We have kept it fresh and modern but still stay true to its core of dog adoption. We started a 501(3)(c) nonprofit, The Pedigree Foundation, which continues to live our mission today — eradicating pet homelessness — by raising funds and giving grants to shelters every year. To date we have given over $10 million to shelters in need to help them operate more effectively, more safely, and get more dogs adopted. Our purpose really resonates with our consumers as well. We authentically believe in what we are doing and people respond to authenticity. It isn't an act, it's who we are and what we believe.


Q. There are several options for consumers when it comes to pet food, including direct-to-consumer and subscription options. To compete, your team has turned to a mix of old and new marketing tools. How has this been working for you?

Everything in marketing today is a learning journey. I think our greatest strength is our willingness to develop a hypothesis about how something might work, quickly test it, then scale up what works or cut what doesn't and move on to the next thing. We have to reach our consumers wherever they are, whenever they are there, with the right message. This is not an easy thing to do and we continue to evolve our approach, but the core of our marketing philosophy remains. Mass reach is still king and TV still delivers. Online video is increasing in importance and we are definitely there, but we take a surgical approach by investing big with partners that we have proven to drive sales and in content that resonates with pet owners. We supplement this by testing new partners and content formats to find the next thing that will work — all while not sacrificing the mass reach that is so important to driving brand awareness. And we still do print ads … we find that magazines continue to be extremely efficient and effective reach driving vehicles.


Q. It's often said you are either a dog person or a cat person, you can't be both. Mars Petcare is successfully giving love to both dogs and cats. Tell us more about how you reach both types of people.

We do try very hard to reach both cat and dog owners and deliver the right brand message to them. Today, we know that cat people are getting dog ads and vice versa. In today's data intense world, it is hard to effectively (and efficiently) find dog owners and cat owners. And if we do know that the consumer has a dog or a cat, it is even more challenging for us to serve them the right message in the right place. We also know that the more granular we get, the more it costs us. We are working with many data providers to try to crack this. I think this is a huge challenge facing all of us in marketing today — what is the role of data in our advertising mix, does the incremental cost deliver incremental sales and finally, how do we prove it? It's an exciting time to be in the industry and we still have many more questions than answers.


For more advice and insights, don't miss Bolin's presentation at the 2019 ANA Brand Masters Conference, February 27–March 1, 2019, in San Diego, Calif.


Crystal Albanese is a senior manager of committees and conferences at the ANA.

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