In 1993, Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis faced the challenge of turning around Purina Dog Chow, the flagship brand of Ralston Purina.
Purina revolutionized the dry dog-food category with the introduction of Dog Chow in 1957. In the early 1970s, Dog Chow enjoyed more than one-third of all dog-food sales. But market share dropped in the ’70s and ’80s to hit 10 percent in 1993, mostly due to a hostile competitive environment.
We needed to identify a long-term strategic and creative solution to turn the brand around. Initial strategies were somewhat predictable. They assumed a “brand image problem”: better value, better quality, product news. However, these had nothing to do with the consumer. At that point, the account planning process kicked in.
Together with our client, the agency team examined the lives and behaviors of dog-food consumers. Our first task was to define a target. By analyzing Nielsen Panel data and IRI sales volume data, we found the answer was in our own backyard with loyal and occasional Dog Chow users. Convincing occasional users to buy one more bag out of 10 would greatly increase sales. Research showed that nonusers were entrenched in choosing other brands.
We conducted two types of qualitative research to understand the differences between loyal and occasional users: focus groups and in-home interviews with dog owners in the process of feeding their dogs.
We found they were similar in two important ways: Both loyal and occasional users considered their dogs beloved members of the family and they both loved Dog Chow. Yet, they had divergent attitudes when it came to feeding behavior. Loyal users understood that dogs are dogs and do not need variety in their diets, so they fed their dogs a consistent diet of Dog Chow. Conversely, occasional users believed their dogs were like people when it came to eating behavior and needed variety. Purina nutrition experts informed us that the loyal users were indeed correct–dogs need consistency in their diet. Switching dog food can cause stomach upset, digestive problems and finicky behavior.
Our strategy was clear: Communicate to occasional users that switching dog food has unfavorable consequences and that dogs need to eat Dog Chow every day. This approach not only offered a way to capitalize on the volume opportunity our occasional users represented, but also protected our loyal users by reinforcing their current behavior and beliefs.
In developing the creative, we learned that humor helped soften a potentially “scolding” message.
Furthermore, anthropomorphizing dogs showed consumers that Purina understands how dog owners view their dogs.
The “Dog Chow every day” campaign played a major role in turning around a declining brand. All key factors showed powerful growth–volume grew, loyalty increased and we contributed to incremental revenue to the overall Purina franchise.
One of the most satisfying aspects of this case is that it demonstrates the power of advertising to turn around the fortunes of a huge but declining brand, using consumer insight as leverage rather than product attributes or promotion.
Leslie Grace, Dir., Internal Information Generalist
Steve Crimmins, Dir., Marketing, Dog Nutrition
Jim Vonder Heydt, EVP
Kelli Johnston, Group Dir., Dog Chow, Hi Pro
Rob White, Dir., Account Planning
Eric Block, Dir., Account Services
Anne Bologna, Senior Account Planner
Bill Westbrook, President, Creative Dir.
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