Petco Puts Emphasis on Pet-Owner Relationship in New $15 Million Campaign


In the US, people love their pets. Three-quarters of American households include dogs, cats, and other animals. Pet owners share their love with some 218 million pets—not including fish. This year, consumer spending on pets is expected to reach $62 billion, almost a 5 percent increase over last year, according to MediaPost. 

Those numbers equate to big business for suppliers and companies that sell pet products. And now the pet store chain Petco is vying for a larger share of the market with a new brand campaign.

The problem Petco faces is a classic one: brand differentiation. Comparing Petco to its larger rival, PetSmart, is like comparing Pepsi to Coke. Both chains market to the same audience and, for the most part, what they sell is very similar. Consumers might not even be able to distinguish one store from the other.[more]

Petco aims to change all that with a $15 million marketing effort that centers around the company’s name—but not the part that says “Pet.” Rather, a new ad emphasizes “co,” which means “together” in Latin. The emotional ad depicts people and pets playing and living together, with a script that talks about “companions,” “cohabitants,” “copilots,” and “coexistence,” showing the words on screen with the letters “co” highlighted. “Two simple letters say it all,” according to the voice over. “They’re at the heart of the words that bond us. And at the core of our promise. To nurture that connection completely. Mind and body. That’s why you’ll find them in our name. Petco. The power of together.”

The campaign is a conscious effort to dramatize the difference between two competitors with “Pet” in their name. But it goes further than that. Petco’s chief marketing officer, Elizabeth Charles, tells AdAge, “We felt there was no one in the pet space talking to what pet parents most cared about, which was that bond they had with their pets. … We’re not just looking at nutritional needs and basic care but the emotional, social and mental well-being of a pet. Talking about those aspects of a pet’s complete health, over time, will help differentiate us.”

Petco intends to use the campaign as a springboard to a “true brand transformation,” says Charles. As part of that transformation, employees, who will become known as “partners” rather than “associates,” will don new uniforms and receive more training emphasizing customer relationships so the company can provide “tailored advice, services and solutions.”

Both Petco and PetSmart have benefited from continued growth in the pet supplies and services business, one that appears to be relatively recession-proof. Petco started in San Diego as a mail order veterinary supply company and now has more than 1,200 stores in the US and Mexico. Petco has also grown by acquisition; last year, for example, it acquired 10 PetPeople stores in San Diego and this year will transition them to its neighborhood brand, “Unleashed by Petco,” Petco stores with a smaller footprint. As of November 2012, Petco had sales of slightly more than $3 billion, according to Forbes. 

PetSmart, meanwhile, has over 1,300 stores in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. For Fiscal Year 2012 ending February 2013, it had sales of $6.8 billion, an increase of 11 percent over the prior year.

Petco hopes to get maximum impact from its $15 million investment in the “co” campaign. That amount is more than half of what the company spent in total on marketing last year, but it is dwarfed by PetSmart’s $94 million media expenditure, according to AdAge. Petco, however, is strong in social media. It has over 2.3 million Facebook ‘likes’ compared to over 1.8 million ‘likes’ for PetSmart. While PetSmart has more Twitter followers than Petco (about 89,000 vs. 82,000), Petco has twice as many Instagram followers as its rival. The new Petco campaign will include a key emphasis on its social communities, in addition to stepping up in-store events.