When the dog chews up the Sunday paper this weekend, he may have a good reason.
This weekend, Ralston Purina is placing more than 48 million advertising inserts in U.S. newspapers, including The Times, with a scratch-and-sniff patch containing the aroma of dog food: bacon-flavored Butcher's Blend dog food, to be exact.
Touting the often-pungent aroma of dog food is a new twist for the $3-billion a year, highly competitive dog food industry. Most dog food advertising has focused either on taste or appearance, rather than smell, say industry executives.
After sampling a variety of meats, Ralston found that bacon aroma was the most "distinctive" and the most popular among dogs and, more important to Ralston, their owners. "Even though the dogs eat it," said Ralston brand manager Steve Burkhardt, "we know the consumer makes the actual purchasing decision. Dogs go along for the ride."
Butcher's Blend is a dry dog food introduced in 1979. It was in hopes of boosting weak sales that Ralston increased the bacon content and redesigned the package to feature a drawing of bacon frying in a skillet.
Since the aroma was the main selling point, Ralston decided to incorporate scratch-and-sniff patches, used to sell everything from $150-an-ounce perfumes to detergent, in its advertising campaign.
"We think the consumer who is taste oriented will equate the more pleasant aroma with a more pleasant taste," said Burkhardt "I'm no dog scientist," he added, "but I think it's true on the dog side as well."
He may have a point. Quinton Rogers, an animal nutritionist at UC Davis, agreed: "Aroma is part of flavor and is one of the major components of palatability."
But Rogers is not sure whether the aroma of bacon is more mouthwatering to dogs than, say, that of liver.
"It's one of the sales gimmicks that all the companies use."