Now, as dogs, cats and small animals themselves become social media

influencers the power of cuteness may grow.

During the pandemic, pet owners have spent more time with both their pets anddevices. Since actual sociability can be deadly, social media filled in forphysical visits, while pets became one of the few touchable family members.The role of both social media and pets intertwines as animals’ own onlinepresences increasingly influence consumers’ views of dog, cat and other petfood brands. In some cases, animals make better brand ambassadors because theyare less likely to behave like beasts than people. Plus, cuteness is power inthe persuasion game.

Social media influencers during COVID-19 pandemic

As the pandemic necessitated heavier use of computers and smartphones, socialmedia influencers tapped into people’s unanticipated increased screen time.Influencers have shifted from food-porn Instagram shoots at quaint bistrosonly they know about, to curated home workouts or adorbs-able interiordecoration tips, reported Fox Business.

Social media influencers develop followings by expressing their expertise onspecific topics through their posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and otherplatforms. Those social media influencers can become brand ambassadors whenthey speak positively about a particular company or product, or otherwisebring attention to it. In other words, when a guy with 500,000 followersTweets out 280 characters of golden praise for a dog food, he’s a social mediainfluencer acting as a brand ambassador.

Pet food e-commerce during pandemic

Those same screens populated by social media influencers have become a primepoint of sale for pet food during the pandemic too. E-commerce pet food salesmore than tripled in year-over-year sales growth between January and March.Pet food sales online were 21% higher in January 2020, compared to 2019,according to figures from Nielsen Global Connect. As of August 29, overall petfood sales volume still lagged behind last year, but value had returned tolast year’s figures.

With online sales of pet food growing in importance, so too may the importanceof social media influencers for pet food companies. Some of those brandambassadors may be the pets themselves, or at least their owners channelingtheir thoughts. Pets as social media influencers can bring stronger brandsecurity that humans, the founder of Dog Agency, a talent agency focused onanimals, told the New York Times. Unlike human celebrity sponsors, a pet willnever get drunk and Tweet out something offensive, she said.

A celebrity might take some bizarre dog food eating challenge on YouTube, butthat’s not the kind of attention pet food brands want on social media.Instead, four-legged influencers endear themselves yet more to their followersif they cover their faces in kibble. It just shows they like their food, andit’s just the kind of user-generated content a pet food company wants on theirsocial media streams.

Social media influence marketing agency Mavrck looked at Purina PetCare’spresence on Instagram while studying social media best practices for pet foodcompanies. Influencers made up 14% of Purina’s social media voice. Much of thecontent posted by influencers featured photos or videos of pets enjoying anactive lifestyle, implying that activity was fueled by the pet food. OnePurina social media campaign focused on emotional connections between pets andpeople, boosting brand authenticity.

Currently, late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s cat has appeared in socialmedia posts promoting a high-end cat hammock that attaches directly to thewall, reported AFP. Another dog, Winston the White Corgi, has a deal with dogfood brand Honest Kitchen. Winston influences 230,000 Instagram followers.

Why do people trust brand ambassador animals?

Consumers know that the dog is really just a projection of its owner’sopinion, but a certain suspension of disbelief may occur. Perhaps petsinherently seem more honest than the primates who keep them. We’ve all beenlied to by hairless apes before, especially on social media. It may soundCynical, but dogs have a reputation for honesty dating back to ancient Greece.Maybe people are more inclined to heed a hound’s Tweet, since we oftenconsider dogs to be guileless. A dog would never lie to you about his food.Likewise, cats’ reputation as finicky and discerning may put them in the roleof cynical Garfield to innocent Odie on social media. Cats seem trustworthy,since they would surely let you know if something doesn’t please them. A cat’svicious online review seems roughly equivalent to peeing in sneakers.

Cuteness also plays into it. Psychologists observe that people tend to trustattractive people, even those they don’t know, but react angrily to deceptivebeauty. For example, scientists conducted an experiment testing whetherattractive people would be considered more trustworthy in a game involvingreciprocity. Attractive people were indeed trusted more and given more money,at first. However, if they didn’t pay back their benefactors properly, theysuffered a subsequent punishment larger than average looking participants.

Among pets, cuteness takes the place of attractiveness. Even Nazis thoughtbaby animals were cute, but they weren’t happy about it. Austrian ethologist,fascist and white supremacist Konrad Lorenz originated the concept ofkindchenschema, or that various species evolved similar characteristics toencourage caregiving for young members of their own species. People thinkyoung animals are cute because their physical attributes happen to resemblethose of human babies. Big eyes set in oversized heads, for example, make bothpuppies and kids cute. Lorenz, being a Nazi, considered this affection foryoung creatures to be a defect of human mental processing.

Another century of research on cuteness, mostly by non-fascists, developed awider view of the psychological effects of cuteness on the human brain,reported Discover. In 2009, scientists published research results thatpeople’s brains physically react differently to cutie-pies. Researchersmanipulated photos of babies and toddlers to accentuate or reducekindchenschema. The uber-cute kids triggered greater activity in the parts ofthe brain linked to attention and anticipation of reward. Other scientistsbrought the kindchenschema back home to baby animals. Animals that depend onparental care, including puppies, kitten and ducklings, tend to elicit astronger caregiving response than a lizard that catches its own grubs from dayone. Researchers observed that young animals’ degree of dependency mediatespeople’s caregiving feeling towards that little creature.

For pet food companies, the power of kindchenschema may have always playedsome role in marketing efforts, even if it was subconscious. Now, as dogs,cats and hedgehogs themselves become brand ambassadors, the influence ofcuteness may grow. However, pet food brand ambassadors need to be trustworthyas well as cute. An obvious shill may just seem like a spokes-pet, with alldue respect to Morris the Cat. Similarly, social media influencers work hardto build their follower’s trust and won’t throw that away easily. Ideally, abrand ambassador rises naturally, because they genuinely enjoy and recommend apet product…or do so in the guise of a feline.

Source:Tim Wall Petfood Industry

Image: Bigstock

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