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Pathmatics Blog
COVID-19 |


2020 Ad Trends: How Pet Advertisers Market During Quarantine

May 19 2020 by Sarah Fleishman

The longer I work from home, the more time I spend thinking about my pets. As a consumer, that means I’ve also been thinking more about what else I can do to care for them better, and I’m not alone. Weeks ago, I got an email from Chewy saying that panic buying was resulting in delayed shipping times and I should adjust my pet food subscription accordingly.

But now that we’re collectively realizing staying-at-home is the new normal and not a temporary disaster to scramble to prepare for, how are pet companies like Chewy, Petco, and PetSmart shifting their advertising practices to reach this still keen audience? 

Pet Industry 2020 Ad Spend Trends

First, let’s take a look at how spending on advertising is shifting for the industry as a whole compared to this time last year. Using Pathmatics’ new COVID-19 Insights tool (available in Pathmatics Explorer), it’s clear the pet industry is currently spending a lot more on ads than last year. 


This divergence began around early February, but it took until early March and onward before the split started to look like more than just noise. So, for that reason, the rest of the comparisons and figures in this blog post will look at advertising data from March 1 until May 12, 2020. 

Chewy Spent $3.5M on Advertising Since March

Over this period of close to 3 months, Chewy has held 52% share of ad spend, split between fellow pet industry giants Petco and PetSmart. Interestingly though, they’ve run 668 creatives during this time compared to Petco, which has only a 21% share of spend but over 3 times as many creatives. 


So, what is Chewy’s goal with this tightly-focused approach? 7 out of its top 10 creatives, during this time period, are for social and display ads promoting 30% savings on a new customer’s first auto-ship order. Some of the creatives in this campaign feature language like, “Keep the Whole Family Safe & Happy,” so it’s clear Chewy’s biggest goal is to attract new customers with its timely automated home delivery option for purchasing consumable pet supplies like food and cat litter. 


Chewy recognizes some of these new potential customers are brand new pet owners—after all, quarantine pet adoptions have been so popular, animal shelters in many towns and cities are running out of adoptable pets.

This new pet campaign has been prominent, especially on Facebook, where plenty of pet owners are likely spending a lot more time during quarantine regardless of their work or income. In fact, 81% of Chewy’s advertising budget since March has been dedicated to this platform. Other campaigns include promotions for Chewy’s pharmacy program and co-branded campaigns with Purina ProPlan, Seresto, and more.



Petco Has the Lowest Share of Spend, but the Most Creatives

Since March 1, Petco has pivoted its advertising strategy sharply in response to shelter-in-place orders becoming the norm. The company appears to have been investing a lot of budget in a video campaign highlighting in-person only services like grooming, veterinary care, and pet training from the beginning of the year until early March. By March 18, this campaign, as well as a variety of Facebook campaigns promoting grooming services, were paused.

Unsurprisingly, the creatives that launched afterward are responsive to changing consumer


expectations related to concerns around inessential trips to stores. Some creatives advertise that Petco offers free shipping and 30% off, modeling their design style after Chewy’s ads. Petco Mobile ads show customers that local stores are still open to support them, but with limited hours.

Like Chewy, Petco is also spending more of its advertising budget on Facebook than anywhere else. However, the company’s budget is a lot more balanced between platforms as Desktop Display and Desktop Video categories have commanded about 20% each. Interestingly, Petco is also the only of the three advertisers, compared here, to be advertising on Nextdoor. This website is commonly used for neighborhood pet searches, so it seems a good choice of placement for the brand. Petco is devoting the most advertising dollars to feature on Nextdoor behind Facebook, Youtube, and Yahoo. 


PetSmart Promotes Curbside Pickup for Pet Essentials

In terms of budget, PetSmart falls between Chewy and Petco and has run the fewest unique creatives since March 1 of this year. Like Petco, Petsmart also seems to have paused a lot of campaigns promoting grooming services by mid to late March.

Their active campaigns include co-branded promotions with pet food and medication companies


 just like its competitors. 

A unique feature of the creatives for PetSmart’s quarantine related campaigns is the inclusion of a hashtag: #CurbsidePets. Unsurprisingly, these creatives are running on Facebook, where the company seems to hope people will feel inspired to use the hashtag and extend the impact of the ads through social buzz.


Also unique to PetSmart is a focus on reptile care through a series of 

creatives featuring incredibly vibrant images promoting Thrive, PetSmart’s exclusive brand of reptile products.

The company is also in step with its competition in using advertisements to share how it is continuing to provide pet essentials through quarantine friendly methods, like shopping online for curbside pickup.

At 41% of daily ad spend, Facebook is PetSmart’s biggest advertising platform just like we saw for Chewy and Petco. But, it’s the first to allocate less than 50% of its total budget to Facebook, opting instead to focus more on Desktop Video and Display Ads combined since March 1. Changing the beginning of our interval from March 1 to April 1 to see the impact of removing the paused grooming campaigns, this percentage increases, but only to 44%.

image6Like so many other industries providing goods deemed essential during this time, the story told by pet companies’ advertising patterns shows a shift to promoting online shopping to appeal to consumers who expect the option to stay home. For many pet owners, spending more time with their pets has been a silver lining in our current climate, which gives these advertisers some room to speak to this experience in a more lighthearted way, inviting them to include their #CurbsidePets in the process of meeting their needs.

About Author
Sarah Fleishman

With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.

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