Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Forget about a bird’s-eye view. A leader in pet foods is introducing a digital campaign for a principal brand that promises to provide views from the dog’s- and cat’s-eye perspective.

The brand is Nature’s Recipe, sold by Del Monte Foods, which is calling the campaign “Nature’s Recipe for Moments.” The campaign, with a budget estimated at $2.6 million, is being promoted with this declaration: “See life through their eyes. Experience the moments that Nature’s Recipe can provide.”

The centerpiece of the campaign is a microsite, or special website,, where visitors can pore over virtual scrapbooks of photographs that are meant to chronicle what the site calls “some of America’s most thriving pet and parent relationships.” (“Pet parent” is a phrase used by marketers of pet foods and products to describe the devoted pet owners who treat their pets like children.)

People who come to the special website to look at the scrapbooks can share them through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. The photographs in the scrapbooks are snapped by “collar cameras” provided by Nature’s Recipe to cat and dog owners who are deemed influencers — that is, known to or followed by other pet owners. The influencers are being recruited from realms that include social media, pet bloggers, the technology industry and animal activists.

The campaign is underway with almost 40 pets; the goal is for 50 scrapbooks. As part of the campaign, consumers will be offered a chance to enter a contest through the Nature’s Recipe Facebook fan page to win collar cameras so they, too, can contribute photographs.

The lead agency for the campaign is Digitaria in San Diego, part of the JWT division of WPP, which this year became the digital agency of record for Nature’s Recipe. Among the other agencies involved are: Draftfcb, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies; Hill & Knowlton, also part of WPP; the IC Group; Starcom, a unit of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe; and VaynerMedia.

Nature’s Recipe is a top 10 brand in natural pet foods and treats, according to executives at Del Monte Foods. The category is crowded — it is estimated that more than $20 billion will be spent this year in the United States on pet foods and treats — and may seem more so because of the similarities of many brand names; examples include California Natural, Healthy Naturals, Natural Choice and Natural Balance.

To help bolster its presence in the category, Del Monte made a deal in May to acquire Natural Balance. The company’s belief in the importance of pet foods in general — mainstream brands as well as natural brands — was underlined five months later when it agreed to sell its consumer products division, which sells Del Monte canned fruits and vegetables, to an Asian company, Del Monte Pacific.

The sell-off of the canned products for humans will leave Del Monte Foods as a specialist in pet products. In addition to Nature’s Recipe and Natural Balance, the company sells pet brands like Gravy Train, Jerky Treats, Meow Mix, Milk-Bone, 9Lives, Pounce, Pup-peroni and Snausages. Executives at Del Monte Foods say they plan to rename the company to play up the sole focus on pet foods.

“When we think about marketing to our consumers, where our consumers are engaging, we look at using digital to reach them, understand them,” said Gina Squara, director for digital strategy at Del Monte Foods, which is based in San Francisco, primarily because owners are already “in the digital space.”

And when it comes to the Nature’s Recipe brand, “we concentrate on that thriving relationship that pet parents have with their pets,” she added, stemming from how they “view pets as part of the family.”

The desire of owners “to share these moments” during which they engage and connect with their pets inspired the campaign, Squara said. The idea “to concentrate on what pet parents see from the pet’s point of view,” rather than the conventional point of view, gave the campaign a twist, she said.

Sarah Kotlova, vice president for client services at Digitaria, said the goal was to give Nature’s Recipe a more emotional approach in a category in which ads can be “very bland,” depicting “dogs walking on the beach” or arguing “over what’s in the food or what’s not in the food: ‘We have carrots.’ ‘We don’t have carrots.’”

Kotlova, who spoke with a reporter while her dachshund, Busy, was sleeping at her feet, described the insight that led to the campaign: “It’s always about how do you know you’re doing the right thing. Busy can’t tell me, ‘This is the best thing I ever ate.’”

The result was an effort to use technology to demonstrate pets’ lives “through their eyes, from their perspective,” she said, influenced by the concept of lifelogging: tracking one’s life by capturing data and images with cameras and computers. (Examples include the Nike Plus FuelBand.)

The owners who have placed collar cameras on their pets include Lauren Forgione, who writes a blog about her and her rescue dog, Desmond; Tanya Irwin, a pet welfare activist, with Cutie, her Chihuahua; Maggie Marton, who writes a blog about her and Newt, a cat “in a house full of dogs”; Peter Noll, founder of the blog So Cal Surf Dogs, and Nani, a “surf dog champion”; and Donna Owczarek, who writes a blog about her and her three rescue dogs, one of which, Meadow, is featured in her scrapbook.