Increasing Pet Ownership Across Generations

Through its consumer-facing initiative Pets Add Life, the American Pet Products Association is marketing to the generations to increase responsible pet ownership.




The primary pet-owning demographic of today looks quite different than it did when the American Pet Products Association (APPA) first launched its consumer-facing campaign, Pets Add Life (PAL), in 2002. At that time, APPA’s National Pet Owners Survey identified the primary purchaser and caregiver of pets as a 46-year-old woman. So, our target audience at the launch was middle-aged women.

Across all generations, this group was spending the most on pet products and they were most likely to get a pet. After studying their shopping habits, identifying the type of pets they own and finding out where they received their information, we were able to market to these individuals. The theme of our efforts focused on the joys and benefits of pet ownership identified by APPA’s National Pet Owners Survey, which included love, companionship and fun. The result? Pet ownership numbers continued to grow.

Ultimately, this concept marked the beginning of a new marketing strategy for APPA: marketing to the primary pet-owning generations to increase responsible pet ownership.  We employed 30-second public service announcements that were mailed to T.V. stations, as well as provided printed pieces, like brochures and posters, that consumers could download, all promoting the PAL message.

Reaching New Audiences
The title of top pet-owing demographic from baby boomers to Gen Xers was short lived as millennials made their way into the picture. As a result, we shifted our efforts from traditional media, such as marketing on T.V. and in magazines and newspapers, to engaging digital media campaigns with a strong emphasis on social media and video content to reach this younger audience that grew up online.

Similar to the ever-changing landscape of the pet industry, our PAL audience continues to shift as new generations of pet owners emerge. For the first time ever, APPA’s most recent National Pet Owners Survey captured data for the Gen Z population (born between 1996-2010 and currently in their teens and early 20s). The Survey showed that this generation identifies stress relief (66 percent) and reduced levels of anxiety and depression (61 percent) as specific health benefits of pet ownership, more than any other generation.

Earlier this year, APPA conducted additional, specific research on Gen Zers. This survey of 1,000 Gen Z Americans ages 11-17 found nearly 80 percent are currently living with pets. Among the Gen Zers who do not have a pet at home, 84 percent indicated that they want a pet if they could have one, further giving PAL an opportunity to promote pet ownership to this demographic as well as the Gen Zers’ parents. The research also showed that emotionally charged messages focusing on pets’ value in providing emotional support and comfort during life’s challenging times are most relevant and motivating to Gen Zers.

Connecting with the Loneliest Generation
Gen Z was recently identified as the loneliest generation, according to a national survey by the global health service company Cigna. These findings, coupled with our research, laid the foundation for PAL’s newest video campaign, A Pet Sees You. The video shows the day-to-day challenges of a high-school girl who faces the constant pressures of school, having an online presence, anxiety, heavy use of technology, mass shootings and the desire to change the world. Despite these struggles, the short film emphasizes that a pet sees you even when it feels like others don’t.

A Pet Sees You has already garnered more than one million views to date across social media platforms. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the campaign has been the comments we’ve received from viewers after they’ve watched the video. Comments like, “My dog helps me get out of the bed in the morning” and “My pet prevented me from committing suicide” have made A Pet Sees You so much more than a campaign promoting pet ownership.

Connecting with members of Gen Z through A Pet Sees You has allowed us to become part of the relevant and extremely timely mental health conversation. The pet care community can and should help today’s teens work through their mental health challenges by encouraging them to get a pet. While pets are not a panacea, they should be a part of the discussion, just as service dogs are accepted as a viable and effective means of treating service members with PTSD.

Connecting with Pet Owners Across Generations
Pets are viewed differently across generations: baby boomers love their pets, Gen Xers view them as family, millennials view their pets as practice for kids and Gen Zers view their pets as emotional support. PAL is evolving with the pet owners of today and connecting with them on issues that they find important and relevant. Pets are more important than ever in American life. Understanding each generation’s relationship with pets and pet ownership helps the pet care community craft messaging that reinforces and encourages those relationships.      

If you would like to view the video A Pet Sees You and learn more about PAL, please visit You can also follow PAL on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.  PB

Steve King is CEO of the American Pet Products Association.


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