Have you ever accidentally referred to a Doctor as a Mr. or Mrs.? If you have, you were probably reminded that titles still matter. The same holds true for broad consumer audiences. Parents don’t want to be called child rearers. You wouldn’t call someone who drinks an $8 bottle of wine a connoisseur.  

Pet owners. Pet parents. These two titles seem similar enough that they can be interchangeable, right? Wrong. There are nuances between the two that will not only change how you represent a brand, but if you don’t recognize them and make adjustments, you could alienate the very audience you are trying to reach. 

Pet parents don’t own their pets, they raise them.  Pet owners love their pets, often just the same as pet parents, but don’t believe in humanizing Fido and Fluffy.  But don’t forget about those that fall into the gray space – they act like pet parents, but don’t call themselves that.  This is the audience that draws the line at some point in the humanization of a pet.  For example, they may have a picture of their pet on their desk, perhaps even put a raincoat on their pooch when the weather is bad, but may think a Halloween costume is over the top. 

When it comes to the pet industry, there are more shades of gray than an E.L. James book. If you try to oversimplify your audience and don’t do a little homework to understand to whom you are speaking then your campaign may miss the mark. While there’s no exact science to figuring who you exactly are targeting, there are a few simple questions that will help guide you along the way.

  1. Where is the product or service sold?  A pet parent is more likely to go out of their way to specifically buy a pet product.  They are the consumers who frequent the pet specialty stores or the pet-specific websites.  If it’s something sold in mass or discount stores aim for the pet owner as the primary audience.  Pet parents will still buy from these stores as well, but they are probably not the core target.
  2. What’s the price point?  The higher the price point, the more likely you are targeting pet parents.People who consider pets “fur-children” are more likely to spend money on more indulgent items.
  3. What is the benefit?  Pet owners need to understand the benefit of the product.  While most still consider pets members of the family, they prioritize their needs and those of other dependents above their pets.  Pet parents are more likely to buy something that mimics a human product or service even if there is no clear benefit.Pet parents want to provide for their pets just as well as they do themselves.

Narrowing down the audience will help guide the overall PR strategy.  If you are targeting pet parents, you want to develop a plan that creates an emotional connection with the product or service.  Pet owners need to see the rational benefit of the product so proving that the pet needs it will work best.   For all those in between pet owner and pet parent, well you have to strike the right balance.  Play on emotion but not to the point of silly or over humanizing the pet.  And when it doubt, or even if you’re not, always, ALWAYS recommend a charitable element…but that’s another topic for another day. 


Jennifer DeNick is Vice President of Pet Practice at Coyne PR