Research published in the Journal of Marketing reveals that having a dog or thinking about dogs makes you more risk-seeking, while having a cat has the opposite effect.

A new study published in the Journal of Marketing focuses on dog and cat owners and their reactions to advertising.

The study, called “The Pet Exposure Effect: Exploring The Differential Impact of Dogs Versus Cats on Consumer Mindsets” looks into dog and cat owners’ different reactions to advertising messages, and excludes subjects who own both cats and dogs or who don’t own any pets.

In the United States, 68 percent of households (84.6 million homes) own a pet. Dogs and cats are the main pets in the US, with 48 percent of US households (60 million homes) owning at least a dog and 37 percent of households (47 million homes) owning at least a cat.

Pets are a welcome addition to families, especially during the coronavirus pandemic – the researchers note that about one in five households in the US have adopted a dog or a cat since the beginning of Covid-19 in late 2019.

Pets also feature heavily in popular culture, mass media and marketing communications. In this study, the researchers look at the effects of pet exposure (for example, recalling experiences interacting with dogs or cats or seeing ads that feature a dog or cat as a spokesperson) on subjects’ later judgements and decision making, even if the judgements and decisions have nothing to do with pets.

According to the researchers, exposure to dogs makes consumers subsequently more promotion-focused; that is, subjects become more eager in pursuing a goal and more risk-seeking when making decisions. The reverse is suggested for exposure for cats; subjects become more prevention-focused, more cautious in pursuing a goal and more risk-averse when making decisions.

Lei Jia, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell, says that “These effects occur because pet exposure experiences remind consumers of the stereotypical temperaments and behaviours of the pet species.”

The authors write that “research on animal behaviour has identified systematic cross-species differences between domesticated dogs and cats. This stream of research suggests that a promotion oriented, eagerness system better captures dogs’ temperaments and behavioural characteristics while a prevention-focused, cautious system better describes cats’ temperaments and behavioural characteristics.”

They further elucidate: “On a temperament level, dogs tend to be open and expressive, while cats are elusive and cautious ... Consistent with the promotion orientation’s receptivity to change, dogs (vs. cats) cope better with and adapt quicker to changes in the environment, such as moving into a new house or having a new person in the household. In line with the prevention orientation’s preference for the status quo, cats (vs. dogs) appear more concerned with the protection their owners provide and the consistency and stability of their social and physical surroundings.”

These results hold across several product and service contexts. For example, subjects were offered to choose between stock investments (riskier behaviour) or mutual funds (risk-averse behaviour) as an investment strategy. Exposure to dogs led subjects to choose the stock investment option, while exposure to cats led them to choose mutual fund investment option.

Moreover, exposure to dogs encouraged subjects to pick ad messages that are “framed with a promotion focus or messages featuring eagerness appeals.” Exposure to cats did the reverse: participants showed a preference for ad messages that are “framed with a prevention focus or messages featuring vigilance appeals.”

The authors note that secondary data suggests that people in US states with a higher percentage of dog ownership are more interested in searching promotion-focused words online and more likely to contract Covid-19 during the pandemic.

Xiaojing Yang, Associate Professor of Marketing at Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, explains why their findings are significant: “First, marketers should consider crafting their advertising messages differently or recommending different products and services when they target consumers depending on their pet exposure situations.”

Yang adds: “For example, to enhance the effectiveness of advertising appeals or communication messages, marketers should emphasise promotion-focused goals such as gains and non-gains if they are targeting dog owners or after consumers are exposed to dogs or dog-featuring stimuli such as in an advertisement.”

According to Yang, “Conversely, [marketers] should focus on prevention-focused goals such as losses and non-losses if they are pursuing cat owners or after consumers who are exposed to cats or cat-featuring stimuli. Importantly, our findings show that this advice holds even when the advertised product or service has nothing to do with pets or pet products.”

Thanks to this study, marketers can take away a few pointers in how to relay their message in the most effective way to consumers while using pets. For example if promotion-focused products or services are being promoted (such as stock investments or sports cars), featuring dogs in the advertising will probably enhance the message, making it more alluring.

On the other hand, if prevention-focused products or services are being promoted (such as mutual fund investments or insurance policies), featuring cats may make the ad message more potent.

Yuwei Jiang, Professor of Marketing at Department of Management and Marketing, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, emphasises that “Marketers should ensure that stereotypical pet temperaments are made salient in the message. For example, the eagerness aspect of the dog or the cautiousness aspect of the cat should be highlighted. Otherwise, the intended effects of featuring pets in the ad may not be achieved.”

As a final note, pet ownership and coronavirus transmission rates could be utilised to create messages to curb the spread of Covid-19 or other infectious diseases, the researchers say.

“Policymakers in states with more dog owners could design more customised educational programs and materials related to the diseases. Alternatively, when designing ads to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, cats could be incorporated as a spokesperson and/or their temperaments can be referenced in the message to enhance the effectiveness of the ad,” the authors write.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies