U.S. consumers are crazy about their animals and that is translating into good news for sponsor seekers as the pet products industry booms and more dollars are poured into marketing and promotions.

Even the recent pet food recall that dealt a serious blow to the industry may prove beneficial to properties as manufacturers seek to rebuild trust and confidence in their products.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn., consumers are expected to spend $40.8 billion on their pets this year, up 38 percent from what they shelled out five years ago.

Looking to gain a piece of that growing pie, companies are rolling out a host of products and services ranging from organic doggie treats to skincare lines to designer apparel.

All of that has resulted in a wide range of first-time non-endemic partnerships to promote both new and existing products.

For example, Pets Best Insurance Services recently announced a sponsorship with a NASCAR Grand National West Series team; pet ownership portal PetStyle.com recently partnered with a Gen Art event; and Del Monte Pet Products sponsored last month’s international convention of the women’s social group the Red Hat Society.

In addition, 3M Co.’s Pet Care business is teaming up with retailer PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc. on a national promotion that uses 3M’s co-title of a NASCAR Busch Series team as the hook, while JAKKS Pacific, Inc. late last year signed a deal with Snoop Dogg for the hip hop personality to create a branded line of dog apparel.

Some industry insiders believe the recent wide-scale contamination of a variety of pet food products will lead to more activity on behalf of the brands impacted.

“The recall will have a dramatic effect on sponsorship as companies look to make a more meaningful connection with consumers and other stakeholders on a grassroots level,” said Loran Hickton, president of Salmon Creek Public Relations, which spearheaded Pets Best’s racing sponsorship.

Below, IEG SR highlights key hot buttons that pet product manufacturers look for when evaluating sponsorship opportunities:

Generate Visibility/Educate Consumers
Pets Best aligned with an auto racing team in part to raise awareness of and educate consumers about pet insurance.

“The penetration of pet insurance is only about one percent of the market,” Hickton said. “We believe NASCAR offers a huge opportunity from a consumer branding perspective.”

Pets Best plans to leverage the partnership with animal shelters, veterinarians and others with influence regarding pet insurance decisions, Hickton said. For example, the company intends to develop a sweepstakes dangling tickets, show car appearances and other prizes.

“This provides us the opportunity to bring something exciting to our partners and say ‘we recognize your efforts,’ ” he said.

The company also plans to offer discount pricing through the Thompson Motorsports Racing team’s Web site and use its online veterinarian search tool to help race attendees find a vet.

Reach Upscale Pet Owners
Households earning more than $70,000 a year accounted for half of the money spent on pets in ’05, up from 30 percent in ’00, according to Dillon Media LLC, a pet industry consulting firm.

To reach pet owners with discretionary income to spend on their animals, PetStyle, LLC late last year aligned with urban event producer Gen Art to build visibility for its Web site among the property’s young professional audience.

As part of the deal, PetStyle received presenting status to last November’s Shorts on the Beach Film Festival in Miami. It also is hosting a Gen Art pet-centric film contest on PetStyle.com.

“We seek innovative ways to engage our community members and provide them with a unique experience that enhances their relationship with their pets,” said Diana Farrell, PetStyle’s chief marketing officer.

Gain Niche Marketing Platforms
In addition to upscale consumers, pet product manufacturers are looking to sponsorship to forge connections with other targeted market segments.

Case in point: Del Monte Pet Products, which sponsored the Red Hat Society’s Rhythm & Rhinestones gathering in Nashville. The company used the partnership to tout its Pounce cat treats to “Hatters,” who primarily are women over 50.

“We wanted to influence consideration, and we identified an overlap between Red Hat Society members and cat owners,” said Vince Belizario, director of sponsorship and event marketing with agency Seismicom, which developed the program on behalf of the Del Monte Corp. business unit.

Del Monte leveraged the tie with on-site bean bag toss competitions and the opportunity for attendees to have their photo taken against cat-themed backdrops, said Belizario, who added that Pounce may sponsor other Red Hat Society events this year.

Seismicom works with Pittsburgh-based Nicole Murphy, associate brand manager, Del Monte Pet Products.

Build Relations With Trade Partners
Pet product manufacturers can use sponsorship to strengthen support from their retail customers. 3M Pet Care’s current promotion on behalf of its Dental Treats line for dogs offers PETCO co-title visibility on the Roush Racing Number 16 Busch Series car for the Labor Day weekend race at California Speedway.

The promotion offers consumers the chance to win a trip to the race, VIP pit access and a meet-and-greet with driver Greg Biffle, among other prizes. 3M is touting the promo online as well as through in-store displays featuring Biffle’s likeness.

3M offered the promotion to PETCO as part of an incremental purchase of Dental Treat products, said Clint White, the retailer’s manager of strategic partnerships & promotions.

Tips On Selling The Pet Products Category
Properties should keep the following ideas in mind when prospecting and building targeted sponsorship offerings:

Be creative and pet-centric. Properties should develop on-site activities and ancillary promotions that take into account consumers’ love for their pets.

“The standard list of sponsorship entitlements isn’t applicable with the pet category–you need to have fun and develop activities that draw pet lovers in,” said Jeff Shaw, Gen Art’s vice president of sales and business development.

For example, the Shorts on the Beach Film Festival featured a red carpet photo op for dogs and their owners, an on-site dog salon and other pet-focused activities, Shaw said. “The pet was the star of the night.”

Try to tap multiple budgets. In the pet food category, most of the top brands are owned by major packaged goods companies (see table). Properties that already have sponsorship from sibling brands should try to leverage those relationships to secure additional support from the pet-related products.

That strategy helps companies spread the cost of a sponsorship across multiple budgets, noted Belizario.

Attend trade shows. Major industry gatherings offer sellers the chance to learn about new products and brand marketing objectives directly from key marketing personnel. Pet product confabs include the Global Pet Expo and H.H. Backer Assocs.’ pet industry trade shows and conferences.

Packaged Goods Giants And Their Pet-related Brands
Company Brands
The Clorox Co.
1221 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612-1888
Tel: 510/271-7000
Fresh Step; Scoop Away
Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.
400 SW 8th St.
Topeka, KS 66603
Tel: 785/354-8523
Science Diet; Prescription Diet
Del Monte Corp.
One Market St. @ The Landmark
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: 415/247-3000
9Lives; Canine Carry Outs; Gravy Train; Jerky Treats; Kibbles ’n Bits; Milk-Bone; Meaty Bone; Meow Mix; Nature’s Recipe; Pounce; Pup-Peroni; Reward Special Cut; Snausages
Mars, Inc.
6885 Elm St.
McLean, VA 22101
Tel: 703/821-4900
Buckeye; Cesar; Pedigree; Sheba; Whiskas
Nestlé Purina PetCare Co.
Checkerboard Square
St. Louis, MO 63164
Tel: 314/982-1000
Alpo Prime; Beggin’ Strips; Beneful; Busy Bone; Cat Chow; Chew-eez; Deli-Cat; Dog Chow; Fancy Feast; Fit & Trim; Friskies; HiPro; Kibbles and Chunks; Kit ’N Kaboodle; Kitten Chow; Little Bites Indoor Complete; Mighty Dog; Moist & Meaty; Pro Plan; Puppy Chow; Purina One; SecondNature; T Bonz; Tidy Cats; Veterinary Diets; Whisker Lickin’s; Yesterday’s News
The Procter & Gamble Co.
The Iams Co.
7250 Poe Ave.
Dayton, OH 45414
Tel: 937/898-7387
Eukanuba; Iams