Older owners of dogs can indeed learn new tricks, or at least pet food purchasing habits. Marketing researchers observed older owners tend to try newer dog food brands as frequently as long established products. Therefore, pet food brand marketing may be less effective if it assumes baby boomers look for pet food that was advertised on Howdy Doody or Laugh-in. Indeed, targeting marketing towards any pet owner age group may reduce its efficacy.

“The key message is to not target narrowly and that brands should sell to all buyers of the category,” Peilin Phua, marketing scientist with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of the University of South Australia, told Petfood Industry in an email.

Phua and her team did not find a strong correlation among consumers’ ages and ages of brands they bought in 1,552 purchases of 10 pet food brands available in the United Kingdom. Age groups were divided into 18 to 34, 35 to 54, and 55+.

“Consumers of any ages are potential buyers. Any person that has a pet will have to buy pet food, hence, is a potential customer,” she said.

Phua’s team analyzed 88,000 total purchases and found similar results as with dog food brands. They looked at the age of the consumer and compared it to the founding date of the brands purchased.

The Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services published the results.

How to apply research on dog food purchaser age and brand choices

“It is better to be inclusive rather than exclusive with your marketing approach - selective targeting and ignoring certain age segment only limits a brand's potential market share for reasons mentioned above,” said Phua. “The smaller the segmented target audience, the lesser the opportunity to recruit new buyers ‘and to grow a brand.

“Take a step back and think about the reason for targeting certain age groups. It can be inefficient when the reasoning for targeting specific groups are because the groups are considered as 'heavy users'. Targeting heavy users (i.e. trying to increase the frequency of their purchases) is often an inefficient use of marketing effort based on evidence from consumer buying behavior research (discussed in this paper). 

“However, if the targeted age groups are severely underrepresented in the brand’s user profile, then targeting (in a smart way) can be beneficial. Although most skews in consumer groups are normally due to such as limited distribution and under representing in certain geographic areas; rather than consumers age as a variable. 

“We see that the main determinant of competition between brands is their size rather than their segmentation or targeting. The bigger brands to have higher loyalty compared to smaller brands, as bigger brands are often more established with higher physical availability (eg wider distribution) and higher mental availability (having larger advertising spend).”