In the global pet food industry, humor can build empathy and enhance abrand’s image, but those jokes need to remain sensitive to others.

Cat treats are made from people, PEOPLE!

Soylent green isn’t really the latest novel protein, but Mars Petcaremarketers took this ultimate step in humanization of pet foods with theirseasonal Temptations cat treat. Mars promoted their cat treats as flavoredwith “tasty humans,” although actually made with beef, liver and chicken.

Aliens too are interested in how to serve man…for dinner. While fleeing theAlien-infested starship Nostromo, last survivor Ellen Ripley took time to savethe cat, Jones, from the hungry xenomorph. However, in an advertisement forMars Petcare brand Pedigree, the dog was left behind after aliens abducted hisowner, leaving the dog in need of adoption and perhaps hungry for pet foodfrom that brand.

Another connoisseur of human flesh, Count Dracula, enjoyed the music made bythe howling of wolves, children of the night. Vampires must be canine-lovers,as Count Boris enjoyed the company of a wolf descendant in another Pedigreead, but the vampire gave up the dog for adoption so his pet could frolic inthe daylight with other dogs.

Humor in dog, cat and other pet food and treat marketing

These ads exemplified some of what consumer goods marketer and humorist TomFishburne, the Marketoonist, talked about in his opening keynote presentationat Petfood Forum 2021 on Sept. 23. Especially now, as the pandemic drags on,people could use a laugh. However, pet food companies need to use that levityappropriately.

“Humor is needed more than ever,” Fishburne said in an interview. “But often,companies are sensitive to using humor, particularly for the last 18 months.There’s this feeling of better to be serious than sorry. Yet, what that doesis, unfortunately, every brand starts to sound alike. We all get the same1,000 emails saying, we are here for you as we navigate the new normaltogether but apart. That feels like the safest course, but actually, there areways to use humor appropriately to connect.”

Many types of humor exist, and pet food companies need to use the right typeto avoid a bad joke falling flat, he said. Pet food companies should avoidaggressive forms of humor that could offend or anger. Andrew Dice Clay orHoward Stern wouldn’t be great pet food spokespeople. Instead, pet foodcompanies must keep humor in the zone of being self-deprecating or finding away to laugh with pet owners about what we’re all going through together.

Humor within pet food companies

Making internal audiences laugh can help a pet food company too, Fishburnesaid. Humor can ease communication while reducing fear and discomfort, leadingto greater creativity and collaboration.

“One of the biggest things that can get in the way of creative thinking issilos,” he said. “Humor is often a great way to break down the silos, becausehumor is ultimately about empathy and connection. There’s this old vaudevillequote that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. So, if youcan find some shared humor between silos, that can often give you permissionto talk about things you really need to talk about, but are often hard to talkabout.”

Humor can bridge divides across cultures both in the corporate sense and theglobal sense. Fishburne gave the example of when he was working with aSingapore-based company to overcome a corporate culture of scolding. However,his first attempt at a cartoon to represent a shamed employee bombed, since itincluded a boy with a dunce cap on. While Anglophonic people might instantlyunderstand the conical hat as a punishment, in Singapore, a dunce cap wasculturally meaningless. Instead, the CEO of the company demonstrated howschool children in Singapore are scolded, by crouching in a corner withcrossed arms and hands pinching the earlobes. Not only did this instantlycommunicate the idea of shaming, it also broke down some of the employees’fear of the senior executive since he was willing to humble himself in thatpose.

That CEO’s ability to laugh at oneself to connect with others across culturalchasms is more important than ever, Fishburne said.

“Humor can be an act of empathy,” he said. “It starts with having empathy, notonly for who your audience is, but for anyone else in this sphere. Brandsstarting from a place of empathy will end up will avoid many potentialmisfires.”

Be aware of power dynamics and think about what the butt of the joke is andmake sure that the vibe of the joke is appropriate, he said.

This means that if you’re a leader, either within a company or externally inthe marker, you don’t want to make fun of anyone or another brand that couldbe construed as lower than you hierarchically. However, making fun of yourselfcan be incredibly empowering and positive.

In a global pet food industry, humor can build camaraderie and enhance abrand’s image, but those jokes need to remain sensitive to others.

Source:Tim Wall Petfood Industry

Image: screenshot from

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