Puppies: The Marketer’s Achilles Heel

Is it just me, or have more and more marketers been shamelessly using puppies to promote their product or service? Even when the product in question has less than nothing to do with dogs, you’ll find man’s best friend grinning at you from the bottom of that monthly newsletter, or perhaps on that ad flashing on the side of your screen. And yet, who are we kidding? It may have nothing to do with the product, but we’re not complaining. It’s a puppy, for goodness sake.

The thing is, marketers are giving in to the puppy phenomenon not only because it works, but also because consumers aren’t exactly putting up a fight. And why is that? Why do we so often look at an ad with a puppy on it and say “aw, how cute!” instead of “I can’t believe they’re using a puppy to promote their product. Their product doesn’t have anything to do with puppies!”

The answer is a little something I like to call the “unhateable” factor. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Puppies, on one hand, have a very high “unhateable” factor. On the other end of the scale are things like fruit cake, toe socks, cumberbunds, and other odds and ends that some people like, but most people don’t (okay, so toe socks may have a few redeeming qualities).

When asked why puppies are so unhateable, and why they’ve become such successful marketing ploys, we came up with a few answers:

It’s All about Emotions

When we took those high school and college psychology classes, we learned about the value of using an emotional appeal to tug at our heartstrings and persuade us to see one side over another. Puppies are the perfect example of an emotional appeal, which is exactly why we see them and think “aww.” How can we possibly look at a puppy and think “Shame on you!”? That’s right, we can’t.

It Gets Your Attention, Right?

How often do you see an ad or a landing page graphic that shows a woman talking on a phone, or a man smiling while working on his laptop? Stock images like these have become increasingly common, and it’s becoming more and more likely that consumers have seen these images before. An image that features a puppy, on the other hand, breaks through this clutter and stands out, catching our attention in a positive way.

Dogs are Relatable

A recent study by the Humane Society of America found that 40% of U.S households own at least one dog. Just for comparison, the 2010 census found that only 34% of households have children under 18, meaning that more people now have dogs than kids. So if someone sees your puppy image or ad, chances are high that they either own a dog, know someone who owns a dog, have owned a dog in the past, or will own one in the future. That makes them pretty darn relatable!

So maybe this whole using-puppies-as-a-marketing-tool fad isn’t so farfetched after all. What are your thoughts on it? Do you love it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments!