Of course not.
Dogs are carnivores and can’t digest fresh vegetables. Nor do they read advertising or discuss dinner choices with their doggy friends.
So just how did a new vegetable dog treat do so well on Dragon’s Den this week?
Making a dog’s dinner of a treat
The owners of Huxley Hound wanted to feed healthy treats to their dog. For humans, the current health food trend is for raw fruit and vegetables, whether scrambled into smoothies or spiralized into noodles.
So rather than start with a treat that was naturally appealing to hounds (let’s say, a bone) and working from there, Huxley’s owners decided to start with something that was naturally appealing to humans.
Yet almost the first thing confirmed on this Dragon’s Den episode was that
“Dogs are unlike humans in that they cannot break down the cellulose in plant matter that holds all the nutrition.”
Rather than seeing this as an obstacle, however, Huxley worked to find a way of changing the vegetables to release the vitamins and minerals in a form which dogs can digest. It turns out that dehydration has this very effect.
Mission accomplished. Huxley have a new product which can be eaten by dogs. They do not claim it is a whole food, nor that it is a particularly healthy treat; just that it is ‘healthier than raw’ (a low bar, if raw in this case means indigestable). If I were a dog I would have lost interest already.
I forgot the magic of Marketing
Perhaps dogs do understand what we say; certainly they are intelligent creatures. But until they can fill the supermarket trolley the canine consumer voice is limited.
On the other hand, it is relatively easy to target the buyers of dog food. Pets are increasingly treated as part of the family, an only or extra child, and sales of human accessories for dogs are booming. Think of woolly coats, dressing up clothes and snazzy neckerchiefs for dogs: all bought by the loving pet-parent principally for his own delight (and cute photos on social media).
So the solution is to build an emotional message that pulls families to buy. Frame your business so that you can use words like Organic and Made in England, stress the importance of extending healthy food (even treats) to the whole family, and use plenty of pet pictures to make the buyer feel part of a loving, dog-friendly group.
It even works for the cynic. Since a dog is as likely to be attracted to a smelly slipper as a dried carrot, you might as well carry the carrot. Better still if the carrot is visually appealing (an orange chew doubtless beats a muddy brown pellet in the style stakes). Add healthy eating to the equation and even the unimpressed might buy.
So yes, you can sell carrots to a dog
Or rather, you can sell a carrot product to a dog owner, which is what counts in marketing. Huxley Hound provides an interesting case study in unlikely success, showing that you can sell almost anything to anyone provided:
- the benefits are clear; and
- your marketing is targeted at the right customers
- using language and emotional messages that will appeal to them.
The dogs’ verdict? With a general willingness to please, and ability to chew almost anything with relish, they are likely to be happy. And a happy family means a marketing win for Huxley.