People pay more attention to ads when they feature dogs and cats

COLUMBIA, S.C. — By now most of us can recognize the Target dog — I mean, who can resist those puppy eyes? Apparently not many people, according to a new international marketing study. Researchers conclude that adding dogs or cats to promotional ads makes people more eager to pursue a goal or product. They were also more willing to take risks when making a decision.

“These effects occur because pet exposure experiences remind consumers of the stereotypical temperaments and behaviors of the pet species,” explains Lei Jia, lead study author in a statement.

Other companies like Microsoft and Wells Fargo have also picked up on the secret to getting people’s attention. In 2020, Microsoft featured dogs in their holiday commercial about spreading joy and Well Fargo featured a cat advertising about suspicious card activity alerts.

The new study looked at consumers’ decision-making skills when they viewed an ad featuring a dog or cat versus recalling their experience playing with a dog or cat. The findings show people were more likely to take more risks such as a volatile stock option and bet more money when ads featured a dog or cat as the spokesperson.

Dog and cat ads were most helpful when they had a promotional message with an enthusiastic tone. Interestingly, the research team also found people who owned dogs were more likely to look up promotion-focused words on the internet and more likely to become infected from COVID-19.

“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. For example, to enhance the effectiveness of advertising appeals or communication messages, marketers should emphasize 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,” explains study co-author Xiaojing Yang, an associate professor of marketing at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.

“Conversely, they 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,” he continues. “Importantly, our findings show that this advice holds even when the advertised product or service has nothing to do with pets or pet products,”

The researchers suggest the findings could shape marketing strategies for companies selling products. Additionally, they say including more cats and dogs in COVID-19 ads could be more effective in spreading the message about preventative behaviors for cutting transmission.

The study is published in the Journal of Marketing.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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