The prolonged covid-19 pandemic has triggered two seemingly oppositional trends. On the one hand, years of intermittent lockdowns and international travel bans means that in 2022, people are desperate to get out and travel. Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted for Mars Petcare, 70% of Americans are planning to travel this summer, with 68% planning to use a hotel. However, the coronavirus pandemic also led to a surge of pet ownership - all those adorable Covid puppies - but travelling with your four-legged friend isn’t always the easiest.
Mars Petcare has spotted an opportunity to solve a problem for animals and their human stewards, while also living up to its purpose: ‘A Better World for Pets’. They’ve created a suite of resources to make travel with pets easier and have expanded their partnership with the Hilton group, which has seven pet-friendly brands. This includes Mars Pet On-Demand, an online behavioural, health and wellness resource for guests staying at the hotel.
As well as tapping into a growing demand for pet-friendly travel and hospitality, this initiative also feeds into a wider marketing trend for taking action, and supporting people in their lives, rather than putting out messaging. Story-doing, rather than storytelling. And that’s not new for Mars Petcare, which has long supported initiatives around the rescue and rehoming of pets, encouraging take your dog to work days, and even helping veterans benefit from the mental health help provided by pets.
Jam Stewart, vice president of corporate affairs, Mars Petcare, talks to LBB’s Laura Swinton about the partnership with Hilton and how Mars is living up to its mission to make life better for pets.
LBB> What sparked the idea to do something around pets and travel?
Jam> Throughout the pandemic, millions of families added pets and as many of us experienced, came to rely on them for companionship and stress relief. After a couple of years of enjoying extra time together, people want to spend more time with pets now than ever before.
At Mars Petcare, we are committed to our purpose: ‘A Better World for Pets’. As part of that commitment, we are always looking for opportunities that allow more people to experience the benefits of a life with pets and make it easier for people and their pets to be together. One of the key pillars within our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS program is pets being welcome in more places and we knew travel was a major tension point for many pet parents. Combining our expertise in pet care with Hilton’s in hospitality, we came together to address and meet the needs of today’s pet parents to make traveling with their pets more enjoyable as they look to hit the road.
LBB> With pet ownership rising during the pandemic, and people getting more used to spending time with pets while working from home, does that feed into dog owners' desire to take their furry friends with them on holiday?
Jam> Through our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS program, we keep a pulse on pet parenting trends and recently found that more than 80% of pet parents say the increased time they spent with pets during the pandemic has made their four-legged friends feel even more like family and looking ahead, 90% want to keep spending increased time with pets as the pandemic subsides1. The strengthened bond between pet parents and their pets is changing pet parents’ expectations for where they can be together, travel included. 70% of Americans plan to travel this summer, and more than two-thirds of US pet owners cite mental health benefits like stress relief and a sense of security as key reasons to bring their pets along when they travel.2
LBB> You could have easily made a straightforward piece of advertising comms about pets and travel but instead you actually decided to form a real partnership and actually make pet-friendly travel more accessible - why was it important to do something real? And how did that evolve?
Jam> At Mars Petcare, we’re committed to our purpose: A Better World for Pets. Forging a partnership with an industry leader like Hilton was critical to our success in driving change and setting a new standard for pet-friendly travel. When we set out on this partnership, there was true white space in the pet-friendly hotels across the industry and Hilton was committed to standardizing pet-friendly policies and expanding pet amenities across their brands in a meaningful way. There was a lack of consistency from hotel to hotel which was a true pain point for pet parents that with this partnership with Hilton, we’re thrilled to be able to help solve. Our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS program, a research-based model for pet-friendly practices and policies, has helped inform how our collaboration with Hilton has come to life with the collective goal of making traveling with pets more seamless and enjoyable.
LBB> And how did the conversation with Hilton come about?
Jam> The partnership emerged given the increasing demand for pet-friendly travel and we know that pet-friendly accommodations play a big role in the decision-making process. As we remain committed to our purpose, solving pet parent stressors to allow them to be with their pets in more places is a top priority. Forging partnerships with like-minded companies is key to the work we’ve set out to do. Hilton shared the same commitment to setting a new standard for pet-friendly travel and we’re thrilled to partner with them as a global hospitality powerhouse. Through this partnership, we’re committed to paving the way for more people to travel seamlessly with their pets and we’re continuing to advocate for even more pet-friendly changes across the travel industry as a whole.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges involved in bringing this pet friendly travel experience to life with Hilton?
Jam> We launched our partnership during the pandemic, when 23 million US homes welcomed a new pet.3 From the beginning, we knew the importance of keeping pet parents at the core of programming while we work to meet their evolving needs on the road. Working with Hilton, we’ve taken a thoughtful approach to ensure that not only are pet-friendly accommodations more readily accessible, but that traveling pet parents now also have more support.
Through recent research we learned that 1 in 5 pet parents are worried about their pet’s health and behavior when traveling so our latest offering was designed to address just that. As part of our latest announcement, guests staying at Canopy by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton properties in the US and Canada have access to Mars PET On-Demand, where our Mars Pet Expert Team (PET) is available to answer questions and offer pet health, wellness and behavioral advice related to traveling with cats or dogs. The first-of-its-kind pet-friendly travel service includes on-demand articles with tips including what to pack and how to settle in as well as chat features, both online and via phone, where the Mars PET can answer any pet-related concerns throughout the trip. As an added benefit through Mars PET On-Demand, Hilton guests can take advantage of a special offer from the Banfield Pet Hospital including a waived enrollment fee (up to $75 value) for new customers who purchase an Optimum Wellness Plan.
LBB> And can you tell me about the success of the partnership - and why you've decided to further expand it?
Jam> In 2021, we announced our partnership with two of Hilton’s ‘extended stay’ brands, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton making more than 1,000 hotels across the US and Canada pet-friendly. Given the success of the program and support across Hilton’s portfolio, we were thrilled to expand our partnership to include five additional Hilton brands giving pet parents more than 4,600 pet-friendly hotels across the US and Canada to choose from for their next trip.
As part of the partnership expansion, Mars Petcare’s BANFIELD™, BLUEPEARL™ and VCA Animal Hospitals™, as well as doggy day care and boarding franchise ‘Camp Bow Wow’, joined the partnership. The trusted health experts from Banfield, BluePearl and VCA, as well as pet behavior experts from Camp Bow Wow, curated specialised content for our Mars PET On-Demand service and Banfield included a special offer for Hilton guests to further support traveling pet parents.
LBB> Mars Petcare has been doing a lot of activity which we can classify as brand action rather than stunts and storytelling - whether it's adoption drives or take your dog to work days. Can you tell me about the strategy behind this more active form of marketing that finds new ways to be present and help in the lives of your audience?
Jam> We are fueled by our purpose: A Better World For Pets, a world where they’re healthy, happy and welcome. This means everything from their nutrition to high-quality medical care and our work to end pet homelessness. As part of a privately owned company, we are guided by a set of principles and have commitment starting at the top to focus on the long term. Through our BETTER CITIES FOR PETS program, we work with key stakeholders including government leaders, animal welfare experts and business leaders to create more welcoming communities for people and their pets. Our partnership with Hilton is just one example of the work we do with industry leaders to set a new pet-friendly standards so more people can experience the benefits of a life with pets.
LBB> How do you foster this kind of thinking within your teams and agencies? And what advice would you give to marketers wanting to incorporate this approach into their marketing mix?
Jam> Our 85,000 petcare associates, as well as our agencies and external partners, are inspired and united by our purpose - A Better World for Pets. Our purpose connects us all and allows us to stay laser-focused on the work we do and in turn the impact we can make. Pet parents and their pets are truly at the center of everything we do, and we're committed to putting the needs of pet parents first to continuously improve our products and services as pet ownership continues to evolve. As we've done with this partnership, we work collaboratively across our brands, agencies and external partners to further our purpose and continue to create more welcoming communities for people and their pets. For others trying to incorporate this approach, it’s all about a singular focus on leading with purpose authentically and embedding that approach across your strategy. If you’re able to start there, it allows you to ensure that all programs, products and services tie back to the core of what you’re trying to accomplish in the bigger picture.
1 KRC Research conducted online surveys of 1,003 U.S. pet parents from July 28 to August 8, 2021.
2 KRC Research conducted an online survey of 1,004 U.S. adults 18 and older between June 1 – 3, 2022.
3 ASPCA omnibus poll of 5,020 Americans between May 17-21, 2021.