Why smart marketers must know a ‘dog person’ from a ‘cat person’

By our News Team | 2023

Researchers find cat owners are more conservative than dog owners. So, choose wisely when using one or the other in marketing campaigns.

Thinking of using pets in your marketing campaigns? Researchers say CMOs and their ad agencies should decide carefully, because opting for a cat when you should have chosen a dog – or vice-versa – can have significant implications.

Academics at the University of South Carolina in the US advise that when a product’s features are mostly promotion-oriented, companies should feature dogs in their marketing materials. But when product features have more to do with prevention, cats would be a better choice. And, add the researchers, the pets’ stereotypical behaviours would need to be depicted to maximise the effect of the campaign.

Marketing Strategy

Image by Titus Staunton from Pixabay

In essence, the study found that cat owners are more conservative than dog owners – after researchers conducted a series of experiments which showed cat owners preferred products that prevented problems, while dog owners were drawn to products that promised gains.

“Consumer behaviours are driven in part by two opposing mindsets: a promotion focus and a prevention focus,” explains Professor Xiaojing Yang in an article published in the Harvard Business Review

“The first is characterised by eagerness, risk seeking and a priority on maximising gains, while the second is marked by caution, risk aversion and a priority on minimising losses. 

“We tend to associate dogs with a promotion focus, given their typical openness and adaptability, while linking cats – which are generally warier and more aloof than their canine counterparts – with a prevention focus. 

Stereotypical traits that activate the related mindset

Yang says the research team believes that exposure to dogs or cats reminds people of these stereotypical traits and activates the related mindset. This makes them either more inclined to favour products that are risky or promoted for positive outcomes, or more drawn to products that are low-risk or said to prevent negative outcomes.

“Given the prevalence of pets in our daily lives, they’re an important part of our socialisation, affecting our mindset and cognitive style. That’s true even for people who don’t own pets but have simply observed others interacting with them,” Yang adds.

Would the same results hold true in other cultures besides the US, where the research was done? Yang thinks not.

In Western countries – such as North America and Western Europe – pets are treated almost as equals and the results would be similar.

“But in some other countries – ones whose social structures are more hierarchical – people are more likely to view pets as possessions, and my guess is that their consumption choices wouldn’t be influenced in the same way,” Yang states.

And is there any further research being planned on this unusual topic? “We’re interested in whether pet ownership influences conspicuous consumption. We’re guessing that dog owners are more likely to engage in it, mirroring the openness and expressiveness of their pets, whereas cat owners might rather avoid the limelight,” says Yang.