How to avoid pet food marketing

Everyone has fallen for marketing before – this is why we purchase products. Sometimes products live up to their reputation, other times not so much. When choosing a pet food, it can be difficult to not get caught up in the marketing and think objectively about if that product is really the best thing for your pet. With so much misinformation being promoted by pet food companies, it can be difficult to determine what is truthful and what is overinflated.

So today’s post is all about the sneaky tactics pet foods use to reel you in, and how to avoid them by shopping with your head, not your heart.

Decode definitions
Certain terms and words that companies use on their packaging are not all meaningful. What I mean by that, is some terms on the packaging are not actually defined by AAFCO or FEDIAF – they are completely made up! For example, the term ‘biologically appropriate’ is trademarked by a pet food company. It’s a completely made up term that has no definition of what a ‘biologically appropriate’ food should be!

Terms that aren’t defined by AAFCO/FEDIAF:

• holistic
• hypoallergenic or low allergen
• human grade (food is either human edible or not)
• ancestral diet
• premium or super premium
• biologically appropriate
• grain free (diets may still contain grains such as rice, or contain cross-contamination)

You can determine if a definition is legitimate or not by looking at the AAFCO Talks Pet Food website, or it has some form of regulation attached; for example, terms such as ‘natural’ (95% of ingredients must be naturally derived) or ‘organic’ do have certifications aswell as standards that need to be followed to use the term. A quick Google search should be able to tell you this.

Credible Claims
Claims on packaging are similar to definitions but rather than being describing words, they are more phrases that tell you what a food does for your pet. Claims should be backed by science and not deliberately trying to inflate a product’s benefits or misrepresent it to the consumer. For example, if a diet says it cures or prevents a condition, you should be able to access evidence or scientific studies that support this claim. Claims that are too good to be true, often are so I always recommend looking for the evidence to support it. If a diet is using a phrase that you simply cannot prove, then it’s not truthful. Also watch out for statements that contain guarantees like “this will”, “never”, “guaranteed”, “proven” etc. instead, diets should say things like “may prevent”, “may assist in”, “can improve”, “clinically trialled” or “clinical trials show/suggest”. It’s also important to look at how claims are phrased as some are defined by AAFCO/FEDIAF, for example you cannot say something is high protein, if you aren’t noting what you compare it to, such as “compared to similar diets in X range” or saying something is “low fat”, without naming the food its lower in comparison to. Sometimes companies will try to circumvent this rule, by stating “high in meat protein sources” or “contains 99% meat”.

Claims to avoid:

• This is the best thing you can feed your pet
• This diet will prevent allergies
• You will never have X problem again
• Proven to cure/treat/prevent X condition
• Claims unable to be verified by studies
• High protein/low fat/low carb claims that don’t explain what diets they are comparing it to

No negativity
A common tactic I see pet foods employing is talking down other diets. Some companies have elaborate advertising campaigns that make negative statements or comparisons between their food and others, to make theirs look better. Often, these statements made about competing foods are inaccurate or hyper-focuses on ingredients and scaremongering. Any diet that feels the need to talk ill of its competitors, or spends more time telling you about why not to feed other foods rather than promoting the benefits of their own, should be avoided.

What to look out for:

• X type of food causes cancer/allergies/illness – ours doesn’t
• X diet contains this ingredient, ours doesn’t
• We don’t use X ingredients because they are cheap fillers
• Other foods don’t care about your pet’s health/want to make money

Eliciting emotion
While every product being sold to you is going to use this sort of language to some degree, some brands employ it more than others. Companies may use this to make you feel guilt or shame for your current food choices, humanise pets to make them more relatable or apply human emotions and needs onto them, to make you feel scared or fearful about what will happen if you don’t feed the way you are being told. It’s important to remember we are buying food for our pets, not ourselves; consider what your pet’s needs are and what their preferences are. You might think your pet needs a prime cuts because that is what you would eat, but nutritionally the internal organs (by-products) are superior for them. Pet food marketers use persuasive techniques such as rhetorical questions, buzzwords, emotive language and imagery to get owners to feel a certain way about a food, to persuade them to buy. Pay close attention to how a food makes you FEEL – you should feel good about your choices unless there is significant reason to be rethinking your choices. If you are concerned, ask your vet or nutritionist and they will be able to alay your fears or provide a suitable alternative.

What to watch for:
• Would you eat this? (Humanising)
• Images of wolves, lots of colours, dogs that look like your own (emotional connection)
• Overly flavoured or humanised diets (stews, ‘gourmet’ foods etc)
• You can do better, if you feed your pet X they’ll thank you for it (eliciting guilt)
• Feeding X will make your pet sick, they won’t thrive etc (scaremongering, eliciting fear)
• No “by-products” or other ingredients labelled as ‘bad’

Have you noticed any of these tactics before? Have you ever purchased a pet food based on any of these tricks and traps? Pet food marketing is incredibly persuasive. Tell us about your experience when looking to purchase a pet food.

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