Companies from appliance maker Midea to cosmetics brand Perfect Diary have featured cats and dogs in advertising campaigns that tap into Gen Z’s love of pets. Juliette Pitt examines how pets could help your business succeed in China – and why you should start taking canine KOLs more seriously
Over the last 30 years, the status of pets in China has evolved from watchdogs and rat catchers to part of the family. The pet market in China reached an estimated RMB 206.5 billion (around £24 billion) in 2020. Although the proportion of pet owners in China is still only around 4-5%, the market has expanded significantly, growing at a year-on-year rate of 20% from 2015 to 2020.
There are many drivers behind the rapid growth of the pet economy. One is demographic change. With more young people delaying marriage or deciding to stay single, many have sought companionship from a cat or dog. In fact, it is estimated that around 41% of Chinese pet owners are single and 46.3% of those were born after the 1980s.
“Recent policies such as the declassification of dogs as pets not livestock and the ban on trade and consumption of wildlife in China is helping to change attitudes towards pet ownership,” says Matt Jackson, Director with KPMG’s UK-China Business Practice. In 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture explicitly announced that cats and dogs are not livestock and should be classified as domestic pets. Together with the overall increase in consumer income and standard of living, many middle-income households are more willing to spend money on a pet. Over half of pet owners reside in Tier 1 and 2 cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, and it is estimated about one third have an average income of over RMB 8,000 (£933) per month.
A recent survey showed that Chinese people mainly purchase or adopt pets to make themselves happier and to de-stress. Many pet owners, especially Gen Z, crave an emotional connection and seek to fill this void with a furry companion. As a consequence, the number of pets and owners is on the rise, and it is important for businesses to think about the potential of this market.
How can businesses take advantage of the pet market?
Many young people are eager to provide the best lifestyle for their pets and this has enabled businesses to profit from this growing consumer group. Even businesses that don’t sell pet-related products and services have reaped the benefits. By featuring cute pets in their advertising, brands ranging from cosmetics to fashion to cars have tapped into the pet economy and succeeded in connecting with younger audiences.
A good example is domestic Chinese cosmetics brand Perfect Diary. Last year the brand launched a ‘doggy’ eye palette and collaborated with the famous live streamer Austin Li to feature his pet, Never, in the campaign. By positioning a celebrity’s dog at the forefront of the campaign, Perfect Diary pre-sold 150,000 palettes during the first few minutes of Austin’s live stream.
Live streaming pet-related content can help brands reach a wide range of potential consumers, and many brands are using a ‘pet ambassador’ in their advertising. For example, home appliance manufacturer Midea opted to collaborate with a cat called Shengsu to launch the M6 robot vacuum cleaner. The cat’s profile has around 5.9 million followers on Weibo, and its content continues to get hundreds of reposts. The company chose to feature the cat in its campaign as it knew it could target household pet owners who frequently need to clean up pet-related messes and spills.
For CBBC member company Emma Bridgewater, 70% of sales in China comes from mugs, with animal-themed mugs making up 5% of the sales mix (cats and dogs being the most popular). Even international fashion brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton have released pet-related products and accessories. Simple luxury products such as a dog jackets and collars have become immensely popular items, especially among Gen Z and millennial consumers in Tier 1 cities.
Louis Vuitton collaborated with the same pet key opinion leader (KOL) as Perfect Diary, Never, to advertise one of its pet carriers. This highlights that by cooperating with pet KOLs, fashion brands can capture consumer attention by featuring ‘cute’ pets rather than other animals. People tend to associate pets with joy, and by creating these types of campaigns, brands can reach out to both pet owners and animal lovers in general to target a more diverse market audience.
Pet lovers = tech savvy
The main demographic of pet owners in China is also tech savvy. The rapid growth of the pet economy has accelerated with online shopping. Indeed, as seen in the examples above, animal-related content means more than just creating adverts featuring Fluffy. Many different brands have leveraged the pet economy to execute an omnichannel strategy that combines online and offline marketing.
Social media will continue to be an essential tool for the pet industry and platforms such as WeChat, Weibo and TikTok will prove increasingly valuable. Brands of any kind should explore these opportunities and consider working with pet influencers or live streamers to promote their products. It is estimated that there is a pet live streaming session coming online every 5.4 seconds on video-platform Kuaishou.
Moreover, many consumers tend to buy their pet supplies online, and this could be a good way for brands to target owners. It is believed that 71% of Chinese pet owners visit pet-related content online, and so it could be hugely beneficial if a brand features a cat or dog in a campaign. Furthermore, businesses that foster their own pet representatives or work with pet KOLs are more likely to be successful, but should be aware that this requires time and investment.
The untapped potential of the pet economy
Last year the number of cats and dogs in China’s urban areas exceeded the 100 million-mark for the first time. The willingness of consumers to spend on their pets is also set to rise and in years to come it will gradually catch up with the US. As the trend to humanise one’s pet grows, China’s younger citizens are also becoming highly attuned to issues surrounding animal welfare. In addition, with more people delaying having children, there will be an increase in young millennials who wish to devote their energy to their furry companion instead.
According to CBBC retail and e-commerce lead Pearl Zhu: “Aside from launching pet-related products and collabs, making your brick-and-mortar store pet friendly could also be a winning formula in China. Empowering pet owners to take part in shopping and socialising without leaving their four-legged friend at home along could hugely facilitate a positive perception of a brand or company.”
Overall, even if your business does not sell pet related items, the developments in China’s pet economy should not be overlooked.