Big Cat/Little Cat Eukanuba Cat Foods Program
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Big Cat/Little Cat Eukanuba Cat Foods Program

A comprehensive public relations program has helped this top-of-the-line cat food increase its market share an overwhelming 36 percent, without significant advertising.

Paul Holmes

Silently the lion watches, ears and tail twitching, waiting for the moment when, with a hungry roar, he can pounce on his dinner. . . a bowl of cat kibble?
 
Everyone knows that lions and other big cats need a meat-based diet.  But the lesson for cat owners is that what’s good for lions is good for house cats, too.  The Big Cat/Little Cat branding program from Fleishman-Hillard (FH) has helped Eukanuba Cat Foods get a paw in the minds and households of consumers.  A comprehensive public relations program has helped this top-of-the-line cat food increase its market share an overwhelming 36 percent, without significant advertising.
 
CHALLENGE
 
Eukanuba Cat Foods relies on word-of-mouth and public relations to tell its story.  The brand team does not conduct any television or radio advertising, and does very limited print advertising.  It’s a super-premium, high-priced brand that has mainly been purchased by cat owners “in the know,” such as breeders and veterinarians.  It was Fleishman-Hillard’s job to convey the message to consumers that Eukanuba is the best they can feed their little tigers at home.
 
While Eukanuba created packaging that makes the “big cat/little cat” connection, it had done little else to help consumers make the connection.  Lions and other exotic cats that are in zoos are usually fed frozen horsemeat, which does not necessarily provide the most complete or balanced nutrition, and it is also prone to spoilage.  Eukanuba offered a unique alternative for zookeepers – a dry food that requires no refrigeration, freezing or thawing.  Feeding Eukanuba to big cats at the zoo could help consumers make the “big cat/little cat” connection as well as enhance the brand’s image.  But zookeepers are understandably skeptical of feeding cat food to their prized exotic animals at the risk of the big cats’ health and well-being. 
 
RESEARCH
 
Eukanuba had done extensive focus group testing and discovered a big cat/little cat theme on its packaging really connected with cat lovers. They found that people do think of and refer to their cats at home as little tigers, lions or panthers, and see that their domestic cats exhibit many of the same characteristics as exotic cats.  But the program needed to go beyond marketing and packaging to convey this message in a more tangible and visible way.
 
OBJECTIVES
 
Build tangible evidence of the similarities between exotic and domestic cats
Increase Eukanuba brand name awareness 
 
STRATEGIC APPROACH
 
To help cat owners make the “big cat/little cat” connection, The Iams Company and Fleishman-Hillard worked together to approach zoos with the idea that they consider conducting a research feeding program with their prized big cats.  In addition, The Iams Company had developed a relationship with David Raber, who had rescued a captive-born cougar named Cougar and fed him Eukanuba Cat Food exclusively.  Cougar was to become the “spokescat” for the brand.  Together these programs helped make a tangible connection between big cats and little cats and the importance of good nutrition to both.
 
EXECUTION
 
To emphasize the big cat/little cat program, we conducted PR for three major areas: the spokescat program, the zoo research feeding program and general brand public relations.
 
Spokescat Program. In 1997, David Raber called Iams Customer Service with a surprising request – he needed to know how to feed his captive-born cougar.  Eukanuba’s research and development team and Raber discovered that this 200-lb. feline named Cougar enjoyed and thrived on an exclusive diet of Eukanuba Cat Food. Raber was so thrilled with the results that he and Cougar became a spokesman/spokescat team for the brand.  By 1999, all packaging featured Cougar’s image side-by-side with a domestic cat to underscore the big cat/little cat brand message.  To capitalize on this, we regularly sent Raber and Cougar out to cat shows and veterinary conferences to share his story – cats are carnivores, and it’s important to feed them a meat-based diet like Eukanuba Cat Foods. We media trained Raber to emphasize the importance of diet and other key messages.  It never fails to impress audiences and media that Cougar thrives on a domestic cat food. 
 
Zoo Research Feeding Program.   The Iams Company and Fleishman-Hillard began by contacting the specialized feline nutritionists who chart the course for all zoo feeding programs.  From there, we had to convince zookeepers, veterinarians and commissary managers who also were understandably skeptical about the program.  The offer: send them a year’s supply of free Eukanuba Cat Food if they would try feeding it to their zoo’s prized big cats. Fleishman-Hillard suggested that Iams help further build the relationship and connection with this audience through a cause-related marketing program.   Iams negotiated a sponsorship of big cat conservation around the world with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), a national organization that represents more than 180 accredited zoos and aquariums. In September 1999 at the AZA annual meeting, we launched the feeding program, recruiting a select number of zoos to participate. The participating cats and organizations now include two lions at Wildlife World Zoo in Phoenix, two servals at The Oklahoma City Zoo, three lions at Glen Oak Zoo in Peoria, two bobcats at Knoxville Zoo, two snow leopards at Baltimore Zoo, two Canada lynx at Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn., and two cheetah at Miami Metrozoo. And what’s for dinner at these zoos?  Eukanuba Cat Food.  Initially, some zoos had challenges with switching the cats to the new dry diet.  But research, discussions and growing relationships between the zoos and the Iams/Eukanuba researchers helped smooth the way, develop a method for transitioning big cats from a wet diet to dry Eukanuba, and convince everyone of the value of Eukanuba’s premium nutrition.
 
General Public Relations. We have also kept the Eukanuba message in pet and consumer media regularly through other publicity efforts.  This fall, we launched a new formula, Hairball Relief, with a fun, faux-fur media kit (including a tip sheet entitled “Hairballs: Some Things that Come Up”). The unique and eye-catching kit was a success, creating awareness with key influencers across the nation.
 
RESULTS
 
Brand awareness is up.  In the last year, Eukanuba Cat Foods’ market share has grown 36 percent (from 2Q99 to 2Q00).
 
Eukanuba is now fifth in the premium cat food market, up from sixth a year ago.  (It competes with its sister brand, Iams Cat Foods, which is second in the market.)
 
For the first time, David Raber and Cougar were invited to speak at the North American Veterinary Conference, the largest veterinary conference in the world.
 
Thanks in part to their visibility from Eukanuba Cat Foods, David Raber (and Cougar) wrote their first book, Through Cougar’s Eyes, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2001.
 
Forty-five zoos requested food for their own big cats this fall, more than six times the number of participants in our first year. And more zoos are calling Eukanuba for information every day as word of the unique program – and its benefits to big cats – spreads through the zoo community.
 
Television, print and radio hits are starting to roll in from our September zoo media campaign and VNR release.  Iams Customer Service is seeing a rise in calls about Eukanuba from domestic cat owners and even private exotic cat handlers.
 
We launched a new hairball formula in early October, which, although it was not the first formula to market for hairball control, is expected to generate more than 1.6 million impressions in target publications.
 
Given our successes with Eukanuba Cat, Iams has asked Fleishman-Hillard to begin a similar plan for Eukanuba Dog Food to mimic the program for a dog-loving audience – teaching long-time dog owners a new trick.
 
We have successfully paved the way for future growth for the Eukanuba brand. The program we have created through a strong public relations campaign is a good case study for The Iams Company to use in future integrated communications efforts across its brands.
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