MediaRadar Blog

2023 MediaRadar Prediction: Pet Advertisers Pullback After Pandemic Shopping Spree

As we kick off the new year, we’re covering trends from key markets in 2022. We’ll recap the state of each industry over the past year, the ad strategies of its biggest players, and what we predict 2023 will hold.  

Did you know more than 23mm American households adopted a pet during the pandemic?

Understandably pet advertisers took full advantage, pouring millions of dollars into digital and traditional formats to get in front of eager pet parents. 

But with the pandemic fading and recession putting a damper on any future pet purchases, how are advertisers responding, and what will they do in 2023?

We looked at our data to find out.

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MediaRadar Insights on Pet Advertising in 2022

In 2022, more than 2,000 advertisers for pet companies advertising 2.6k brands spent more than $1.18b on ads, representing an 8% and 20% YoY decrease in companies and brands, respectively. Most of that decrease, however, came from advertisers in the pet food category shortening their leashes. 

In 2022, pet advertisers allocated the biggest chunk of their budget to TV (43% or ~$506mm). Meanwhile, advertisers spent $451mm (38%) on digital media and the remaining 19% ($223mm) on print publications.

Although pet advertisers still spent big on TV ads in 2022, their fondness for digital is growing. In 2021, they spent just 29% of their budget on digital ad formats.

A level deeper, the number of advertisers for pet retailers dropped significantly, decreasing by 32% YoY from 2021 (~950 companies down from 1.4k during 2021). 

At the same time, the number of pet apparel companies pouring ad dollars into traditional and digital formats declined by 12% (from 300 in 2021 to 259 in 2022).

The biggest movers and shakers in the pet category, however, came from advertisers promoting food (cat food, dog food, pet food and online pet food retailers), who collectively spent more than $700mm or 59% of pet advertising spend. That said, only one category saw its investment rise: online pet food retailers. 

Dog Food Advertisers 

Despite nearly 40% of U.S. households owning dogs, advertisers promoting dog food decreased spending in 2022 by 6% to $218mm. That drop would have been greater had it not been for advertisers for Nestle’s Purina brand increasing their investment by 42% YoY in the wake of a successful year for the company. 

In fact, Nestlé’s pet care business sales topped $4.29b in the first three months of the year, up by 13.5% from the same time in 2021. Overall, Nestlé’s pet care business reported the second-highest net sales figures across all Nestlé product categories.   

At the same time, advertisers for General Mills (Blue Buffalo, Blue Wilderness) and Mars (Cesar, Eukanuba, IAMS, Nutro, etc.) decreased spending by 52% and 25% YoY, respectively.

For General Mills’ ad teams, the reduction comes despite impressive growth. According to the company, full-year net sales were up by 30% to $2.3b.  

It’ll be interesting to see how advertisers respond in 2023 as it expands its capacity to support the growth of the pet segment.

As the pet segment grows and becomes increasingly competitive, expect advertising strategies to evolve. 

Case and point: The PEDIGREE® brand recently launched the FOSTERVERSE™ program, “a first-of-its-kind initiative enabling real-life rescue dogs to be virtually fostered in the Metaverse, bringing the brand’s ambition to end pet homelessness to the virtual world.”

While there’s no advertising angle in play right now, it seems likely that the company’s innovative go-to-market strategy will eventually trickle over into the way it buys ads. Other advertisers could quickly follow, including those for General Mills and Nestlé. 

Cat Food Advertisers

Advertisers for cat food spent $123.4mm in 2022, representing a 31% YoY drop from the year before.

The cat food advertisers contributing to that decline came from General Mills (Blue Buffalo and Blue Wilderness), J.M. Smucker (9Lives, Meow Mix, etc.), Mars (IAMS, Royal Canin, etc.), and Nestlé (Friskies, Purina, etc.). Collectively, these advertisers spent $120mm, down from $170mm invested in 2021. 

That said, not all cat food advertisers saw their budgets caught in a fur ball. For example, advertisers for Hartz Mountain Industries increased spending for Delectables by more than 1,000% YoY.

Many of those ad dollars went to its Deliciously De-Lick-able Delectables campaign, which not only reinforced the Delectables name but served as a launch pad for new visual identities (logos, color palettes, typography, photography elements, packaging and more), for both Hartz and Delectables. 

Hartz CMO Tina LeLay said, “With this work, the Hartz and Cutwater teams [the agency of record] sought out to not only launch a new campaign for our brand, Delectables, but also introduce a whole new product form.” 

This pivotal time for Hartz and the Delectables brand could warrant a steady stream of ad dollars in 2023, albeit not necessarily at the same clip necessary to support a complete rebrand.

Pet Food

Pet food advertisers spent nearly $183mm to advertise more than 780 brands in 2022, representing 17% and 4% YoY decreases in spend and the number of brands, respectively.

Freshpet and J.M. Smucker (Nature’s Recipe, Rachael Ray Nutrish, etc.) contributed heavily to the decrease—spending from these household names dropped by 44% and 99% YoY, respectively.

For J.M. Smucker, the reduction was undoubtedly the precursor to the sale that saw the company sell pet-food brands, including Rachael Ray Nutrish and Kibbles ’n Bits, to Post Holdings Inc., for $1.2b.

That said, advertisers for Nestlé (Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, Purina ONE, Purina Pro Plan and other variations) increased spending by 37% YoY, while Hill’s (Colgate-Palmolive) did so by 43% YoY.

Online Pet Food Retailers 

Online pet food retailers increased spending by 13% YoY, largely thanks to Chewy dominating the pack. During 2022, advertisers for Chewy invested 68% of their ad dollars in TV while sending 26% to Meta’s social platforms, and the remaining to a mix of digital and print media. 

For Chewy, the increased ad investment when others are doing the opposite comes during an intense game of “tug-of-war between strong consumer demand for pet goods and an operating environment filled with challenges like inflation, shortages, and supply chain costs.”

Chewy’s strategy has always been about winning over its customers with convenience, customer service, and an unwavering commitment to making the purchasing process as frictionless as possible—and that strategy continues to propel the company to new heights. 

According to Chewy’s CEO Sumit Singh, the company’s third-quarter net sales increased by 14.5% YoY, while its gross margin expanded to 28.4%, a quarterly high for the company.

Chewy’s customer-first mindset has undeniably been the driving force behind its growth, but its ad strategy also helped. As the company progresses through 2023, that’s unlikely to change.

Other advertisers will likely take notice, especially as the direct-to-consumer pet food market continues to explode.

Pet Food Advertisers Lose Their Appetite 

While pet food advertisers, including those from General Mills, Mars, and Nestlé, decreased spending in 2022, a course correction was inevitable. Not only are people returning to the office, making owning a pet even more challenging, but the recession is pumping the brakes on discretionary spending.

Still, the pet food market is enormous and will continue to attract ad dollars in 2023. That said, those ad dollars may start to walk down different avenues. We’re talking about “pet influencers,” which PetSmart embraced in the lead-up to the holidays.   

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