Why a Sad Puppy Face is a Great Marketing Strategy

great marketingPeople go nuts for babies and puppies (kittens are pretty good, too). So, when you use a sad puppy face in your advertising or in social media posts, people stop to look at your post and read your content to see the relationship between the image and the content. They question why the puppy (kitten, baby) looks so sad. Using a puppy (kitten, baby) playing with a cute toy also works well for attracting the attention of casual observers.
This tactic, used sparingly, helps build a great marketing strategy. However, it’s easy to overdo it, such as the TV commercial seeking donations to support the SPCA didn’t work — the scenes of animal cruelty caused viewers to change channels or skip through the commercial to avoid the disturbing images that make the commercial too much for most viewers. Hence, the trick is to drive interest without disturbing viewers. The image above is great marketing because it stimulates curiosity, not disgust.

Great marketing builds on classic marketing concepts

Face it; no one watches TV or reads a magazine for the advertising — well except for those bride’s magazines, which are about 90% advertising, but don’t get me started on the whole bride insanity (Bridezilla accurately describes how I feel about this topic). So, when you add a cute picture, people at least see your advertisement, and, if you did it right, your brand name is right there next to the cute puppy so people can’t look at the puppy without also seeing your brand name. Building these positive associations between your brand and emotion create attitudes that support consumer purchase intentions. That means you’re halfway toward making a sale. That’s what makes this a great marketing strategy.

The notion of attitudes supporting purchase decisions comes from the early days of marketing and is called the Theory of Planned Behavior. The model of this concept looks like this:

Theory of planned behavior
Theory of Planned Behavior

Factors that interfere between intentions (planned purchases) and actual purchase behavior include things like:

  • sufficient funds
  • availability of products
  • unexpected events
  • social situations

A number of other well-researched marketing concepts explain why a sad puppy is a great marketing tool. Let’s delve into some of them.

Selective attention

Researchers describe the phenomenon that explains why a sad puppy attracts our attention as selective attention, which Iris Benelli of CalState, Northridge defines as

a tendency [of individuals] to orient themselves toward, or process information from only one part of the environment with the exclusion of other parts

Individuals are constantly bombarded by sensory input — and this appears to be getting worse as a startling number of people are multi-tasking when they seek entertainment.  Watching TV while working on your computer makes it harder for companies to get you to notice their advertising, thus disrupting their marketing strategies. We call these folks connected consumers because they have multiple devices running at the same time. They’re watching TV (likely streaming with or without commercials), scrolling through their mobile device for the latest TikTok video, chatting with friends through an SMS app like What’s App, and Googling the actors on the show they’re watching to see if they’re still alive. So, advertisers put a cute puppy in the advertising to stimulate arousal and get you to selectively attend to their message.

Arousal

Arousal, either positive (like a cute puppy) or negative (such as fear) dissuades the viewer from processing the ad using cognitive processing (reasoning) toward emotional processing resulting in a more persuasive ad.

Social media is becoming so cluttered, it’s especially hard to get your message to stand out from everyone else so using emotionally laden images helps your content stand out, encourages users to stop scrolling, and makes your ad more impactful.

See, it already worked for me — you saw Market Maven in the link right next to the picture of the saddest puppy face I could find.

kittens

See – I’ve even used some sad kittens to ensure you saw my message.

Selective retention

Selective retention refers to how we remember what we see, whether it’s an advertising message or another type of stimulus. Selective retention involves storing messages away for future use. For example, once you see an ad, you store the core elements of the ad in your memory banks, and then retrieve the memory the next time you need the advertised product. Consumers selectively retain information that fits their worldview, including their values, interests, needs, and belief systems. That’s why consumers, especially younger consumers, prefer brands that demonstrate shared values, as you can see below.

corporate social responsibility
Image courtesy of Customer Insight Group

Corporate social responsibility involves companies demonstrating their commitment to the values of their target market and their support of the causes that are important to them. Companies demonstrate their social responsibility to consumers in a variety of ways. For example, Chik-fil-A closes on Sundays to show its Christian values. Tom’s donates shoes to those in need for every pair of shoes it sells. But, you don’t need to make such drastic changes to demonstrate your values in a way that impacts your bottom line. You can post images of your company employees working in support of a social cause, such as serving meals at a shelter for the unhomed on Thanksgiving. Or, your company can support the March of Dimes walk through donations, such as Mcdonald’s offering hamburgers to the walkers after the race.

Environmental consciousness is increasingly important to a wide range of consumers. Showing your responsibility to the environment comes in many forms from using recycled materials, a commitment to electric vehicles, or cutting your carbon emissions.

Backing up your mission with actions that demonstrate you’re commitment is important and failure to adhere to the socially responsible policies you develop can easily backfire.

Decision-making

For major purchases, you may use tools like a spreadsheet to compare the benefits of various options before making a decision but everyday purchases commonly use a heuristic as a shortcut to aid in decision-making. Not to get too far into the weeds on this, but one heuristic fits well with our prior discussion on corporate social responsibility. This heuristic is called representativeness and involves the tendency of consumers to characterize products into categories. One such category involves establishing a consideration set (those products deemed suitable) in contrast to the inept set (those products deemed unacceptable).

Consumers don’t necessarily agree even on these broad characterizations. Hence, while some categorize Chik-fil-A as part of their consideration set due to the perceived quality of their food or Christian values, I categorize the restaurant into my inept set because of their anti-gay stance. Purchase decisions are heavily influenced by which category consumers put products into.

Storytelling

We all love a good story and images on social media platforms tell their own story — or they should. Posts containing images receive 94% more views than those without images.

Corporate social responsibility at Market Maven

So, what’s my message — simply that Pedigree was donating a 20-pound bag of dog food to animal shelters for every blogger who mentions their animal adoption program in their blog. Currently, that page offers incentives to adopt a shelter animal including paying adoption fees with the purchase of food, resources for adoptive parents, and a link to adopt pets via Zoom for potential adoptors who don’t feel comfortable visiting a shelter due to Covid..

Seriously, the Pedigree adoption program is a wonderful tool to encourage folks to adopt homeless dogs who otherwise might be euthanized. The Humane Society estimates 3-4 MILLION dogs and cats are euthanized every year in the US.  The Pedigree adoption program links to adoption sites, search engines for specific breeds of dogs, information about adoption, breeds, and matching breeds to family lifestyles. I have 5 adopted animals myself — 2 dogs and 3 cats. And their lives have been enriched (as has mine). I encourage anyone who has ever thought about adopting an animal to do it — you’ll never regret the decision.

Also, I want to encourage those who have animals — either adopted or purchased — to have their animal spayed or neutered to stop the spread of animals who ultimately end up in shelters.

So, why is Pedigree encouraging pet adoption and making donations to animal shelters? Frankly, it’s a great marketing strategy. The company gets publicity from the media – in this case, they attract both traditional media and social media by using bloggers to spread the message in their social networks. The company sells more dog food since adopted animals eat more dog food than animals euthanized. Most importantly, it supports a positive brand image for the product by being socially responsible. Since the economic crisis, there is evidence consumers are even more disposed to buy products from companies they see as socially responsible, as mentioned above.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Blog about Pedigree’s adoption program
  • If possible, adopt an animal
  • Have your animal spayed or neutered
  • Support companies that demonstrate social responsibility
  • Use social responsibility as a tool to support your marketing strategy, but mostly because its the RIGHT thing to do

Conclusion

Using a sad puppy image as part of a great marketing strategy provides many benefits for your advertising campaigns. In this post, we pointed out how traditional marketing concepts translate into the modern, digital world just as they did in days gone by. Consider how to incorporate these core marketing concepts to make your great marketing programs even better.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.