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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Paws for thought

Jess Cook, Client Director at Robot Food, explores the changing landscape of the pet food category and her own recent work strengthening two leading brands for the future

Today’s dog owners have evolved into a new breed: gone are the days of Barbour jackets and wellies, whistles and gargantuan cans of Winalot. Things had been shifting for a while, but the pandemic precipitated the boom in ‘lockdown dogs’: data from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association showed a 24 percent rise in UK dog ownership from 2019/20 to 59 percent in 2020/1.

The dog-owning demographic has changed as well as expanded, ushering in increasingly urban, younger, pooch fanatics who take just as much care in poring over the ingredients in their dogs dinners as they would their own.

Millennials now represent the largest segment of pet owners in the UK (The Grocer Pet Care Trends 2021); and with this has come a shift in expectations from brands. Dog owners are seeking out sustainable, natural, healthy pet foods; reflected in things like new insect-based pet foods like Lovebug! and Aardvark coming to market.

Pet owners have been replaced by ‘pet parents’, with a greater degree of emotional connection with their pets. As such, people are now spending more on their pets, with this set to continue to grow by nearly 5 percent from 2021 to 2026 according to Mordor Intelligence.

These considerations underpinned the recent rebrand of Harringtons pet food from my agency, Robot Food, which looked to modernise and clarify its positioning and visual identity to retain its leadership of a rapidly shifting category.

Harringtons was the most overtly natural product in the category in mainstream retail, but those credentials were often getting lost. We based the new positioning and visual identity around the idea ‘it comes naturally’; building on the natural credentials of the product and redefining what made it a market leader by amplifying the connection between owner and pet.

Since the pet care landscape has changed so much in a relatively short space of time, while Harringtons was still the category leader, it needed to evolve to find relevance with the needs of this new audience of pet owners with more of an emotional hook to stay ahead of the competition. Harringtons had previously relied on trading on quality and price, but that only scratched the surface of the brand – we needed more for people to connect with.

One of the main problems with Harringtons’ previous designs was a lack of clarity across the brand’s various products and subbrands. This disconnectedness meant that Harringtons’ storied history and expertise, dating back 100 years, wasn’t shining through. We had to bring back that sense of authority and demonstrate Harringtons’ premium quality, while underscoring that Harringtons is a brand for all dogs – from Instagrammable cockapoos to working collies, with a new look and positioning that evolved the brand and removed barriers to consumers.

Distilling Harringtons’ personality as straightforward, inclusive, all-natural, and friendly, the new packs needed to communicate with a clear information hierarchy and better on-shelf standout. We created a single, simplified design system that stripped the information on the front of packs down to its most essential details. Everything about the project came back to clarity and impact: it was all about real food, real choice, and real pets.

Some relatively simple design updates can have a big impact: the former packs’ height meant that they were often folded over on shelves, obscuring the brand name. These have now been moved down the packs, which use a horizon of grass that’s consistent across dog and cat products. Changes like these were essential in creating a much prouder, more united brand, with greater impact on-shelf.

Achieving greater impact meant creating an emotional pull. We art directed some new brand photography, ensuring that the images on packs put the animals’ faces centre stage; instantly drawing people in and forging an immediate connection.

The dogs were photographed posing with their front paws positioned on a bar (aided by specialist handlers, of course) so that they seem to be peering over that new horizon of grass on packs. We were careful to choose dog breeds that didn’t alienate Harringtons’ longstanding loyal consumer base, opting for the likes of spaniels and dachshunds rather than anything too obscure or ‘trendy’.

The photoshoot was quite an undertaking: every dog ‘model’ needed an understudy, for instance; and specialist photographers are required, so it was vital Robot Food took Harringtons on a journey to show the client that the shoot was worth the budget. Sure, a pet photoshoot required more time, money, and expertise than using stock photography, but it ensured that Harringtons’ imagery was unique to the brand, further re-establishing its position as the category leader.

Although the new Harringtons branding was undoubtedly informed by recent trends in dog ownership, this wasn’t about throwing the baby out with the bath water. The fundamental DNA of the brand was carried over – Harringtons’ green colour has been retained but made more vibrant; and the former wordmark remains, with its rose icon tightened up and the pinstripe background pattern removed – but now, it’s presented in a bolder, more impactful and more emotionally robust way. It still feels like Harringtons, but it’s easier to shop.

Harringtons is far from the only legacy pet care brand that recently doubled down on its positioning and identity to remain relevant. In late 2022, we worked on a global rebrand for YuMOVE, a range of specialist, high-efficacy pet supplements for joints, skin and coat care, teeth and more.

YuMOVE’s mission, ‘giving pets an active life, for life’, perfectly aligns with newer dog owners’ priorities, as well as those of its loyal customer base.  But like Harringtons, YuMOVE’s credentials were getting lost in confusing product hierarchies and a brand that lacked clarity. Our job was to rationalise the strategic direction and provide a clear approach that would help the business move forward.

YuMOVE’s core buyers have historically been more ‘traditional’ dog owners, since larger breeds like Labradors are more prone to joint issues. With the increase in ownership of smaller dogs and younger, more city-based pet owners, the designs needed to appeal to a broader audience.

As with humans, the pet wellness category is in steep growth, with categories that once relied purely on scientific efficacy now employing more everyday lifestyle cues. YuMOVE has an opportunity to lead the category; so we used design details inspired by the wider world of wellness brands – such as playful, freer layouts and a more approachable colour palette – on the packs to create a friendlier look and feel that maintains the sense of trustworthiness.

Creating a clearer, stronger proposition for YuMOVE enables the brand to play in its heartland of scientifically proven formulas and ingredients and also into more lifestyle and preventative categories. That meant simplifying the packs and stating each product’s individual benefits clearly.

Ultimately, the shifts in dog ownership mean brands need to show off their authentic credentials with confidence and clarity: health benefits, quality, natural cues, value for money, and inclusivity must come to the fore and not hide amidst cluttered, confusing packaging design.

Amplify what matters: care for your pets. After all, making it easier for consumers to understand the benefits of the products they buy makes it easier for them to make their pets’ lives better.

In times like this, more than ever, brands can’t rest on their laurels: they have to think about the future, and not wait until they get to the point of decline to take action.



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