Consumers love their pets, and that passion is creating new sponsorship opportunities for nearly every type of property.

Both established and upstart pet food brands have recently signed a host of new deals ranging from marathons to film festivals and fashion shows.

The overarching goal: creating shared experiences with pet owners.

Recent deals include Petcurean and the Tribeca Film Festival; Purina ProPlan and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon; and Purina Beneficial, which has reupped with the MLS Chicago Fire for the second year in a row.

In addition, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. this year sponsored the Scottsdale Arts Festival, Florida Strawberry Festival and other community events on behalf of Hill’s Science Diet.

On the branded entertainment front, Purina last month announced official pet food status of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent TV show on behalf of the Felix cat food line.  The company is activating the tie with a Facebook competition for cats, with the winner to be featured in a Felix ad spot during the show’s live finale.

Other pet food companies also activate with unique programs. Case in point: Purina in February activated its sponsorship of Tracy Reese’s fall collection show at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week by integrating cats into the runway show. The company used the partnership to promote the launch of Purina One SmartBlend Healthy Metabolism.  

Dollar sales of cat and dog food rose 3.18 percent and 2.91 percent, respectively, in the year ended March 24, 2013, per Information Resources, Inc., a market research firm.

Swapping Tribeca For Tribarka
For its part, Petcurean partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival to support its new “Savour Every Moment” brand campaign.

The campaign centers around a four-minute film by New York City filmmaker Keith Hopkin, who specializes in short films that feature pets. Petcurean debuted the film at last weekend’s Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair.

The festival was a good match for the brand: the event draws roughly 250,000 affluent consumers, many of whom have dogs and other pets.

“A lot of people bring dogs to the festival, so Petcurean wasn’t a fish out of water. They weren’t trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” said Brandon Lowitz, Tribeca’s senior vice president and co-head of sponsorship development.

Petcurean activated the tie with on-site photo opportunities for pets and their owners on an orange carpet. Petcurean products feature an orange label.  

The company also ran in-store promotions at local retailers and touted the sponsorship on www.Petcurean.com.

Below, IEG SR highlights three hot buttons for the pet food category:

Create shared experiences. Like Petcurean and Tribeca, pet food companies look for opportunities to engage consumers and provide them an opportunity to show off their pets.

Natural Balance activates the MLB Los Angeles Dodgers with the annual Bark in the Park event in Dodger Stadium. Dog owners can walk their pets on the warning track prior to the game and sit with the animals in a special seating section during the game.

In a different twist, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon this year created a proprietary pet walk for Purina ProPlan.  The event will be held on May 4th, the day before the marathon.

“It’s a cute event that will bring fitness to everyone. You may not be able to run 24 miles or a 5K, but you can do the walk,” said Patrice Matamoros, the marathon’s executive director. The first 500 registrants will receive a goody bag with a pet kerchief, pet bowl, dog toy and other items, she said.

Purina approached the marathon about the sponsorship, she added.

Other companies also activate by tapping into consumers’ love for pets. Purina activates the Chicago Fire with an online program that features photos of players with their dogs, while Central Garden & Pet activates University of California-Berkeley Athletics with the Cal Dress Your Pet contest.

Central Garden & Pet—which sponsors the team on behalf of the AvoDerm pet food and Nylabone dog chew brands—receives exclusivity in the dog food, chews and treats categories.

Promote brand values. Purina in 2012 sponsored Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival on behalf of Purina One Beyond. The goal: promote Beyond’s brand values of authenticity, sustainability and positive goodness. 

Purina touted those values through roving brand ambassadors and the “ingredients for good” on-site experiential area. The brand also underwrote the festival’s recycling program to support its eco-friendly packaging and manufacturing process.

Access promotional platforms. Like consumer packaged goods companies, pet food brands frequently use sponsorship to drive retail traffic.

For example, Purina will activate the Dicks Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon with PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc. The two companies will sample coupons at the race expo and other ancillary events.

In a different twist, Natural Balance activates the Los Angeles Dodgers with end-aisle displays and other in-store promotions for Bark in the Park.

The promotions give the team valuable exposure, said Michael Young, the Dodgers’ senior vice president of corporate partnerships.

“They do a marvelous job of pushing ticket sales for the event,” he said, noting that the success of Bark in the Park has prompted the team to consider adding a second event this year.

Sales In The Pet Food Category
Category Dollar Sales Sales Increase
Cat Food
Cat snacks/beverages $380 million 5.21%
Dry cat food $2.27 billion 1.91%
Frozen/refrigerated cat food $3.4 million 71.77%
Semi-moist cat food $673,000 (28.38%)
Wet cat food $1.9 billion 4.26%
Dog Food
Dog biscuits/treats/beverages $1.9 billion 3.35%
Dry dog food $5.2 billion 3.16%
Frozen/refrigerated dog food $72 million 21.5%
Semi-moist dog food $123.2 million 3.54%
Wet dog food $1.35 billion 0.45%
*Sales in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets in the year-ended March 24, 2013, per Information Resources, Inc.