How this startup brand plans to stay the course

New petfood provider details its marketing and brand plans

When is dog food not dog food? Perhaps when its intended purpose is to be much more than just food for a dog.

This is the thinking behind new Australian category entrant, ilume, which launched in April this year with the brand promise to give your dog a longer life through better nutrition. The company provides freshly prepared meals delivered fortnightly, coupled with wearable technology for dogs, which can track their health and provide insight into how they respond to what they eat.

The company is the brainchild of Craig Silbery, who had previously founded, managed and subsequently sold businesses in the nutritional health supplements sector.

Silbery founded ilume three years ago with business partner, Ron Ferdinands, with the goal of shaking up the petfood industry by better understanding and meeting the nutritional needs of dogs, and by doing so, increasing the amount of time that owners might have with them. Ferdinands has since taken the role of chief customer officer for ilume, presiding over the development of the brand and its customer-facing offerings.

“Most dog owners don’t actually know what their dog needs from a nutritional point of view,” Ferdinands tells CMO. “Unfortunately, they learn about nutrition too late when the dogs are on the decline.”

The past three years saw Silbery and Ferdinands investigating the science behind pet nutrition, building a team including researchers and chefs, and developing the ilume offering. Their efforts led to the official brand launch in April, accompanied by a television commercial created by agency, 72andSunny. The creative features stop motion animation directed by Tobias Fouracre, who previously worked in lead animation roles on cinematic releases including Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

The ad itself focuses on the relationship between a girl and her dog and is based on the message of ‘stay’ – adapting the standard command for dogs to a message that relates to the desire of dog owners for their pets to stay with them for longer.

“We are going after a particular kind of dog owner – someone who is genuinely obsessed about their dog, who treats them like family, and who would rather have them sit at the table than under the table,” Ferdinands says. “It is really just to get every dog owner – even the ones who can’t afford us - to pause and think about what they are feeding their dog. And to do that, we had to get them to feel something.

“Every time someone utters the word ‘stay’ to their dog hopefully they will think about it, and that it means ‘stay longer with me’.”

Customer sweetspot

Ferdinands acknowledges that as a premium offering, ilume will be out of reach of some dog lovers. For this reason, ilume has made the recipes public for anyone who wants to learn from its research and recreate its meals. Silbery has also funded creation of a $1 million fund to support further research into pet nutrition.

“I think 95 per cent of us don’t come from dog food, and so everything for us is possible,” Ferdinands says. “All of our inspiration comes from human brands and not from dog food brands, and as a result, we created something quite different.”

The television spot is backed by a multifaceted campaign across print and out-of-home, including ‘open letters’ in newspapers encouraging the industry to change for the sake of dogs.

“Then we have what we call ‘public service announcements’ on train stations and bush shelters, where we talk about the truth about dog food,” Ferdinands says. “It is ‘provocation’ messages – and we hope people will look at that and say, ‘something is going on here’ and go to the website and check out what we mean.”

Ron FerdinandsCredit: iLume
Ron Ferdinands

Since the campaign launched in April, ilume has seen its Web traffic double, along with its conversion rates.

“It is still early days,” Ferdinands says. “Brand building takes time, and consumers have to go through a process to get them to think about and consider and intend and to trial your product, and that cannot be rushed.”

Ferdinands says the brand itself is derived from the word ‘illuminate’ and intended to have people see their dogs in a new light. He says the decision to take on the role chief customer officer rather than a more traditional marketing title reflects his own desire to bring a more comprehensive perspective to the brand’s development.

“The brand doesn’t live with us, the brand lives with the customer, and the customer can decide very quickly of the brand lives or dies,” Ferdinands says. “Most of the time, the customer doesn’t care about the brand. And for a customer to at least be on the positive side of the ledger, it is not just the marketing campaign, but every aspect and every touchpoint of the interaction the customer has with a company that is vital.”

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