Ad Age—Petco Launches $15 Million Campaign, Company Transformation Effort

After years of being the place "where the pets go" and subsequently "where the healthy pets go," Petco is updating its tagline and embarking on a company transformation intended to make it a destination that's about more than just products and services.

The new tagline, "The Power of Together," is meant to highlight the human-animal bond. Or more simply put: "There's a desire to see pets as part of the family," said Elizabeth Charles, Petco's chief marketing officer. "They're no longer in the backyard, they're up in the bedroom."

Petco is putting $15 million behind the campaign, which launches this week. It's not an insignificant sum, given the brand spent a total of $27 million on measured media in 2012, according to Kantar Media. Ms. Charles said the marketing budget continues to grow as the business grows, though she declined to offer specifics.

The 60-second anthem spot for the campaign includes plenty of heartwarming moments -- a man in a wheelchair being pulled by his dog, a dog leaping on a man dressed in military gear, a young girl brushing her teeth alongside her pet bird, a kitten being fed from a bottle. But it also cleverly highlights the syllable "co," which means together in Latin and happens to be part of Petco's name.

Words like companions, cohabitants, copilots, coexistence and connections flash across the screen. And a voiceover says: "Two simple letters say it all. They're at the heart of the words that bond us and at the core of our promise to nurture that connection completely, mind and body. That's why you'll find them in our name."

By design, it's a departure from the typical pet-specialty-store commercial, which often features the store and highlights the different products, services and deals available. The spot also addresses an oft-heard critique, that Petco and its rival PetSmart are indistinguishable.

"We felt there was no one in the pet space talking to what pet parents most cared about, which was that bond they had with their pets," said Ms. Charles. "We've been told by our vendors and the vet community that we have a unique proposition. We're not just looking at nutritional needs and basic care but the emotional, social and mental well-being of a pet. Talking about those aspects of a pet's complete health, over time, will help differentiate us."

Still, despite the significant investment, Petco is handily outspent by rival PetSmart, which spent $94 million on measured media last year. Ms. Charles pointed out that, though it has a smaller budget, Petco seeks to better engage its customers through social media. Petco has 2.3 million fans on Facebook, compared to PetSmart's 1.8 million fans. Petco also has more than double the number of followers of its rival on Instagram, though PetSmart is outpacing Petco by a few thousand followers on Twitter.

Danielle Mohn, VP-marketing and customer strategy, said research on the new campaign began about nine months ago. Petco conducted in-home ethnographic research, as well as focus groups and spent time evaluating qualitative surveys and the overall industry culture and landscape. The brand worked with Redscout to craft the brand position, while Vitro was responsible for the creative execution.

The result is a "true brand transformation" which goes beyond just advertising to include cultural, policy and operational changes. The brand will restyle its employees as "partners" instead of "associates" and early next year they will don new uniforms. Ms. Charles said the new uniforms are more relaxed and personalized and include treat pouches, but she declined to offer more specifics. Partners will also receive additional training in the coming months.

Petco also plans to put more emphasis on its social communities, as well as increase in-store seminars and events. The campaign will include TV and online video buys into the first quarter of next year. Early next year, in-store aspects, including signage and the new uniforms will be rolled out.

"We're redefining the game from just being about products and services. You can play the price game all day long," said Ms. Charles. "Customers want to have a relationship with their retailer, to that extent we can provide tailored advice, services and solutions."

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