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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