The Power of Emotion: Biology Can Strengthen Your Pet Brand

By Robert Wheatley//August 29, 2023//

The Power of Emotion: Biology Can Strengthen Your Pet Brand

By: Robert Wheatley//August 29, 2023//

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Pet food brand marketing has followed an ingredient feature/benefit track for decades, focusing largely on analytical messaging around protein percentages, nutritional density, ingredient sourcing, the “first five” ingredients, probiotics, amino acids, fruits and vegetables.

However, pet food buyers find this analytical messaging mentally taxing, noting more similarities than exceptional differences brand to brand and less compelling to help them make a purchasing decision.

Scientifically, we know how human beings make decisions and act, and it has nothing to do with analytical, fact-based arguments. The limbic area of the human brain controls our behaviors, and it is influenced through emotion not logic.

For the most part, though, pet brands continue to lean on Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) like formulation expertise, ingredient tech and nutritional claims trying to persuade people on the path to purchase. This conventional approach to CPG marketing was perfected years ago by Proctor & Gamble, famous for exploiting competitive strengths to an audience not hard wired to make decisions on that basis.

There are intrinsic challenges embedded in this traditional brand one-ups-manship approach.

By its nature, the messaging focus is on the relationship between competing brands – not the brand’s relationship with the consumer. This competitive brand specsmanship commoditizes the brand over time, leaving your principal messaging investments vulnerable to the next competitor improvement that leaps over yours. Because this analytical messaging approach has less emotional stickiness, it requires a heavier ad spend to make analytical messaging breakthrough. This is an expensive proposition, usually fueled by interruption (mostly avoided) forms of media on a revolving calendar basis to try to get this messaging to punch through.

Instead, some of the most iconic brands on the planet got that way by focusing on emotion-enriched consumer beliefs and values rather than product-spec outreach. They include Apple and defying the status quo, Nike and inspiring achievement and, finally, Coca Cola and happiness. These are brands that understand the human condition and work to connect and engage consumers on a level that effectively courts the limbic brain.


The unique relationship between pet parent and pet is novel and unprecedented. The humanization of pets in our lives is represented in the deeply rooted bond that is formed with our four-legged family members. This connection is powerful and permanent. It is not unlike the relationship between parents and younger children.

The connection isn’t based on logic or facts or empirical analysis. It’s founded on real emotional links springing from genuine friendship, companionship and extension of the family concept to include the four-legged ‘kids.’ This powerful pet/pet parent bond stands as a treasure trove of opportunity for pet brands to embrace, celebrate, mirror and help enable this important union. Yet so few brands go there.

Instead, pet brands invest deeply in conveying the quality of the food they create. It assumes that product creation expertise is a better competitive mousetrap, one that deserves a steady drumbeat of communication to amplify those details.

However, we know from neuroscience, the analytical arguments and the facts come into play during post-purchase to help people justify the wisdom of the buying decision – but not before. The action taken to purchase is an emotional one lifted by how people feel in the presence of your brand.

During this year’s Super Bowl, one of the most highly regarded, top-scoring ads within the big game ad fest, was created by The Farmer’s Dog. The theme: “Nothing Matters More Than More Years Together.” The ad chronicles the close and endearing relationship between a young girl and her dog, revealed through shared life stages that followed her childhood to motherhood.

Did the ad recite statistics about ingredient percentages? No.

Did it devote storytelling to ingredient quality? No.

Did it state nutritional claims? No.

Did the ad focus on The Farmer’s Dog brand story and its pet food making expertise? No.

Instead, it celebrated the bond and relationship between a beloved dog and its caretaker over a lifetime. The ad is a powerful, emotive tour de force that mirrors why we care so passionately for our pets. Media pegged it as one of the most effective ads of the entire Super Bowl telecast.

The brand didn’t need to make logical arguments about its product. The connection and engagement opportunity were palpable and designed to be limbic friendly.

The future of pet food marketing and brand building is better served when informed by the biology of how people operate and behave. It is always heart-over-head, and always will be.

The challenge: Can you let go of the reflexive tendency to focus on feature and benefit selling?

If your marketing is heartfelt and causes people to feel something, you’ve tapped into the forces at work in human behavior and how trust is nurtured between brands and their best users.



Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent can help pet brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity and deeper meaning in their pet parent relationships and brand communication.