How to succeed in pet food brand-celebrity partnerships

Getting into the right mindset and being prepared to navigate the world of athletes or celebrities are vital to ensure the best partnership possible, according to Nulo CEO Michael Landa.

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Specialty pet food company Nulo is well familiar with pet food-athlete partnerships. | Photo courtesy Nulo
Specialty pet food company Nulo is well familiar with pet food-athlete partnerships. | Photo courtesy Nulo

Nulo CEO Michael Landa is well familiar with the concept of athlete and celebrity partnerships. The company has built a strong connection with the athletic and active-lifestyle audience by partnering with a range of influential athletes, such as top-ranked tennis player John Isner, CrossFit world champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and NFL linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, not to mention the company’s most recent partner, US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

Nuance, according to Landa, is part of what makes Nulo’s campaigns so successful. In late 2017, Nulo received recognition for the company’s ability to leverage its partnerships and drive new consumers to retail, particularly in relation to its campaign titled “We Decide,” led by Phelps.

“Rather than telling consumers that its food is best, Nulo’s advertising and in-store materials empowered pet parents to put the decision in their own hands by encouraging them to turn their bag around and compare,” says Landa.

But before such a partnership can be a success, it has to be well-thought-out and gone into with a certain mindset, according to Landa.

“We don’t view any of our athlete ambassadors as celebrities,” he says. “I’m not a believer in paying anyone heaps of money to ‘endorse.’  To me, that’s disingenuous.   

“Working with elite athletes sometimes comes with inherent challenges in terms of their own professional sponsorships with big name brands and often requires much collaboration with organizations such the US Olympic Committee (particularly before, during and after the Games) the NFL, USTA, etc.,” says Landa. “Also, in many cases these athletes come with experienced agents and business managers, and navigating the athlete’s availability, use of imagery and ongoing commitments can take much back-and-forth.”

Any pet food company looking to create this type of partnership should go into it ready to work — and most importantly, must be sincere in the message it intends to send its customers. 

“I would first ask whether aligning with celebrities or athletes is a genuine approach for that company, or whether it’s just a ‘me too’ marketing hook,” says Landa. “If it’s the latter, I would caution that today’s consumer can tell the difference and will respond accordingly.”  

For the full companion article, "Why more brands are partnering with celebrities,” published in the March 2018 issue of Petfood Industry magazine, see www.PetfoodIndustry.com/articles/6935.

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