Mom’s private stash

The truth is, moms stash sweets for themselves.  Chocolate in any denomination is at the heart of this secret cache the kids are not supposed to know about, or if they do know where it is, and many likely do, they can smell it on mom when she comes back from her bedroom, there’s a tacit agreement that the kids are NOT to raid this private stash.

The truth is, mom will not readily admit to keeping sweets for herself.  Mom is made to feel guilty whenever she doesn’t put family first.  Even though she can feel desperate for a sweet something as a reward for being on her “second bowl of nerves” with the kids, she won’t come out and say she’s readily indulged in a hidden chocolate bar, or truffle or chocolate-covered pretzel she’s purchased just for herself.  Enough with the guilting.


Dog Dreams: The boundary of “consumer” research Part III

From the Annals of Modern Qualitative Research

Brand Repositioning case study


It’s clear from this work, research that has penetrated the inner life of dogs, that dog food is much more than nourishing gut fill. It lifts a dog’s energy and can at the same time calm him. It tightens bonds between dog and caretaker. It can make a dog nostalgic. In the end it satisfies the dog’s soul. With this rich emotional landscape it would appear that there could be several positioning options for Livers & Hearts.   Recommendation is to commission a quantitative segmentation study in order to confirm the hypothesized attitudinal segments found in this report as well as the mapping of Livers & Hearts vs. key dog food brand competitors. This research also indicates that such a study could be a global one. Livers & Hearts could be a global brand on the basis of hypothesized commonalities across ethnic and climatological groups.

On the basis of this research alone, in the event that the Brand doesn’t have the time or resources to commission a quantitative study, our recommendation would be to not reposition Livers & Hearts as a premium brand. The brand as it is currently positioned in the mind of the largest postulated segment, the Binge & Barfers, is aligned with how these dogs’ expectations of dog food will evolve in the next few years. Moreover Livers & Hearts could attract more dogs from the Performers segment without major marketing investment.   In order to solidify presence with the Bing & Barf segment as well as convert some Performers we would recommend however, a packaging redesign to contemporize the brand. We would also suggest better targeting of Liver & Hearts marketing investment. Consider, perhaps, targeted sponsorships (dog run fence signs, create X-games for dogs (definitely not AKC dog shows!!), cow/sheep advertising, birding or rooting clinics at mega pet food stores (e.g.PetSmart).

Dog Dreams: The boundary of “consumer” research Part II

From the Annals of Modern Qualitative Research

Brand Repositioning case study

Executive Summary

Observation 1

Dogs do have a mental life that extends beyond essentials needs.

“My life is passing me by and I haven’t accomplished half of what I set out to do”

 “I can’t get enough sex but that’s not all that I think about”

 “They never ever ask me about what movie I want to watch!”

“The pressure at the dog run in the park is unbearable…all this talk about who’s going where on vacation, the best homes that puppies are going to. I cry for weeks when they take my puppies”

Observation 2

The quality, range, and freshness of dog food matter to all dogs.

“If I didn’t snoop around the neighborhood for moles or worms or ice cream wrappers I’d go crazy eating the same shit every day!” 

“I know I’m fat and I’m going to get gout but I love it that they give me whatever they’re eating and they never eat leftovers. Fresh stuff every day.”

“Organ meat’s the best. It’s like I killed the critter myself!”

Observation 3

There appears to be an ethnogeodemographic segmentation as it relates to dog food with three distinct segments:

Binge & Barf

These dogs enjoy quantity over quality. They will and do eat anything from anyone at anytime. They complain that they cannot help themselves. As the name implies they will eat until food is taken away from them. In spite of this Binge & Barfers claim that they are forever hungry. Estimate that they represent 40-50% of the dog population. The English Sheepdogs and Great Danes the hypnotist spoke to best represent this segment. This appears to be the largest segment on the basis of comments from the interviewed dogs about the number of friends they have from other breeds that feel the same way about food. Other breeds mentioned include the Irish setter, German shepherd, the Keeshond, Spitz, and Mutts. Note the geographic, climatological, and ethnic background similarities: a blend of Anglo-Saxon-Celt influence that could be explained by nature or nurture. More research would need to be done to better understand which is the more dominant causal factor. The Binge & Barf segment is an interesting segment because of the volume opportunity it represents.


These dogs truly savor every bit of the food that they deem is worthy of eating. They are discriminating and particular in what they eat. Once introduced to human food they find it very difficult to return to what they consider to be bland dog food options. Moreover, for Sniffers eating is a game to play with their caretakers. They enjoy the frustration they see on the caretaker’s face and the threatening tone in their voice. Note too that Sniffers appear to be the most articulate of the dogs. The hypnotist had difficulty in breaking them out of the trance. The two interviewed Shar-peis and one of the Poodles best typify the Sniffers segment. Interviews with these three as well as the other poodle all ran over the hour. This caused problems in two homes because there was only one bathroom in the house and the caretakers needed to use it, badly. In addition to guarding against bias noted in the Methodology section the researcher and hypnotist feared irreparable psychological damage if they were to discover that their dogs could talk. There appears to be a common thread among Sniffers as well. These dogs come from cultures with fine culinary tradition. The interviewed Sniffers counted among their brethren a Basenji, an Italian Greyhound, a Spaniel, and a Dalmatian. This segment is accordingly estimated to account for 20% of dogs. Sniffers expect the best and are willing to make their caretakers pay a premium for it. They would be the bulls-eye targets for a premium repositioning of Livers & Hearts.


These dogs tend to eat what they feel they need to maintain their very active, performance-oriented lifestyles. They are looking for well-balanced diets as well. Ideally they would like to follow a 40/30/30 approach to meals. If they don’t get this balance in the dog food served by their caretakers they will supplement with naturally found carbs, protein, or fat. There is a rich oral tradition among Olympians through which knowledge of these natural sources is passed across breeds and through generations. Among these sources is an assortment of different dirt types, plants, insect groups (praying mantis is off the charts), as well as small mammals. More recent additions to the knowledge base include whatever can be found in a dumpster outside a restaurant. Both of the Chihuahuas and one of the French Poodles fell into this category. Other breeds that likely are more represented in this segment than in the others include the Siberian husky, the Rhodesian ridgeback, the Golden Retriever, the Labrador (chocolate) and the Akita.

Observation 4

Perceptions of the Livers & Hearts brand are mixed. Among the discriminating dogs (Sniffers mostly) it is seen as a dusty old brand of dog food used by their mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and in a few instances, great great grandmothers. Among less discriminating dogs (Binge & Barf) and the Olympians the brand is seen as an energy brand; dog food that’s packed with a lot of good stuff. They don’t believe that the products taste good but are less concerned because they were brought up to believe that dog food isn’t supposed to taste good; that no dog food tastes good because God punished dogs for succumbing to Man’s first call in from the Wild. (Caution: this last observation is based on one respondent who figured himself a philosopher. During subsequent interviews, though, when asked if they agreed or disagreed all dogs agreed)

Observation 5

Dogs pay a lot of attention to packaging.

Dog Dreams: The boundary of “consumer” research Part I

From the Annals of Modern Qualitative Research

Brand Repositioning case study

Summary of Client Briefing

Livers & Hearts is a nationally distributed brand of dog food. It has a long, proud history of providing quality dog food to dog owners who treat their dogs, well, like dogs. Livers & Hearts got its start during the Alaskan gold rush when healthy sled dogs were at a premium. Bryant Burr, a local scavenger, gathered livers and hearts wherever he could find them because a shaman told him that a dog fed on livers and hearts could carry twice as much and haul for double the amount of time of a dog fed on anything else. Bryant stole salmon livers and hearts from under the snouts of grizzly bears and from garbage cans all over town. His business boomed. Gradually he moved the business south and east. Bryant became a rich man when Chess Brands bought him out in the fifties. The basic product offering has changed very little since then. In addition to the original tin can in which Livers & Hearts was sold the product also comes in value-sized bags and a fifty-gallon drum for kennels and other dog-related small businesses. Livers & Hearts comes in original fish, poultry, and beef flavors. Attempts at a multi-flavor offering have always failed for reasons unknown to the current brand team.

The market for dog food is undergoing a growth spurt since dogs are a lot easier to raise than kids. Every aspect of caring for dog has therefore taken an even stronger emotional association. The new Livers & Hearts marketing team has a strong feeling that the brand needs to be repositioned as a premium brand to address the changing attitudinal landscape and value equation so as to leverage expected category growth.


The Brand team also felt that competitive advantage could be had if they got even closer to the end consumer. They felt they needed to by-pass the dog owner and go directly to how dogs felt about Livers & Hearts and dog food in general.

The critical enabler for this project was a market researcher at Chess Brands who is an amateur hypnotist. Remarkable as it may seem this market researcher was able, through hypnosis, to elicit from each dog involuntary, spontaneous, coherent responses to the battery of questions in a human voice. Transcripts of these interviews are available upon request. 1

The research was conducted in ten one-on-one sessions. Five in Manhattan, New York and five in Hollywood, CA. The one-on-one sessions were held in the respondents’ homes in order to put the dogs in a familiar environment. It was felt that this was important, as the dogs were likely to be too nervous in a focus room setting to allow themselves to be hypnotized.

Five breeds of dog were recruited for the study. To remove bias the same breeds were used both in Manhattan and in Hollywood. The five breeds were Chihuahua, French Poodle, English sheepdog, Great Dane, and Shar-pei. The client hypothesized that there may in fact be differences in attitudes and behavior across breeds with different origins as well as size of dog and length of dog hair. The range possible options appeared to be well covered by the five breeds chosen. It was also hoped that armed with breed segmentation research the Brand team would be able to make a case for creating a global project to extend the footprint of Livers & Hearts to Latin America, Europe, and East Asia.

Each interview was scheduled for 2 hours. Two researchers; one ethnographer from Right & Left Brain Research (RALBR) and the Chess Brands market researcher/hypnotist/dog whisperer conducted the interview.

The first hour of the interview was purely observational. The ethnographer videotaped the homes, the dog sleeping arrangements, dog food storage and feeding arrangements, dog play terrain (usually outdoors in the yard) as well as the range of dog toys. Meanwhile the Chess Brands researcher/hypnotist spent the first hour winning/gaining the dog’s confidence with treats and play. The most useful means to grab and retain the dog’s attention was a simple mirror flashing light reflections about the floor.

During the second hour the Chess Brands researcher/hypnotist administered the questionnaire (questionnaire also available upon request). All ten sessions were held in the bathroom, as that is where every dog felt most comfortable. It is unclear whether or not the presence of the toilet bowl is what drove this choice. Further research may be warranted. It took him as little as five minutes and no more than fifteen to hypnotize the dogs. From there the questions were asked in a straightforward manner. There were fifteen closed-ended questions and five open-ended. The dogs were then exposed to five positioning statements as well as four packaging concepts. All responses were captured on tape. The ethnographer remained within earshot behind the closed bathroom door and with a direct microphone feed into the Chess Brand researcher’s ear in case the ethnographer felt the need to redirect the questions. Critical to the research design was that the caretakers were NOT told that their dogs were to be hypnotized much less that the hypnotist expected to get their dogs to talk. This was done to protect against caretakers biasing their dogs’ opinion.

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