Animal Planet has been a leader in the toy and pet categories for more than 10 years. Four years ago, Discovery Communications retained The Joester Loria Group (JLG) to further develop and execute the licensing programs for Animal Planet.

The licensing strategies were designed to leverage Animal Planet’s unique reach and authority on all things animals and the connection between humans and their furry friends. Particular focus was put on pet categories where the results are speaking loudly.

Extending the Brand

Among the programs’ key successes has been establishing Animal Planet as one of the fastest-growing pet brands in North America. The brand’s extension into pet categories was carefully developed to ensure quality, safety and success.

It seemed only natural to extend Animal Planet into pet products, with its strong on-air pet programming and more than 71 percent of viewers owning pets. Nevertheless, Discovery Communications and JLG did some additional groundwork including focus groups to explore consumer permission and intent to purchase in highly competitive pet categories, such as grooming and consumables. The results supported consumer acceptance and confidence.

“The research showed that 58 to 69 percent of Animal Planet’s viewers had a high intent to purchase a broad selection of Animal Planet pet products and trusted the brand to deliver superior safety and quality,” JLG’s president Debra Joester says.

But Discovery Communications and JLG knew more than consumer interest was required to launch and sustain a successful brand. The plan was refined, with testing protocols and an ethical policy for all consumables developed to ensure products delivered on the brand promise and consumer expectations.

Animal Planet pet products including toys and pet beds launched at Petsmart in May 2009. The product launch included network marketing support on the heels of Animal Planet’s rebranding. The program quickly expanded with lead licensee MerchSource placing pet products including beds, blankets, houses, feeding and toys in non-traditional pet accounts. Retail success at Macy’s, JC Penney, Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond spoke volumes about the brand’s appeal and the opportunity pet goods provided to department and specialty stores.

“Sell-through’s of 85 to 95 percent at leading national accounts drive retail demand for Animal Planet products,” Joester says. “In the past two years, the program has had exponential growth with new categories, new accounts and distribution in Canada.”

Discovery Communications and JLG also set high standards in selecting licensees. An early key partner, MerchSource brought sourcing capabilities and retail relationships that helped fast track four- to eight-foot sections of Animal Planet pet products at leading accounts. More recently, Premium Pet Health (PPH), a division of John Morrell Food Group, was licensed for Animal Planet dog treats, including crunchy and chewy biscuits and jerky.

“PPH has taken a very strategic approach to develop treats that are tasty, healthy and live up to the brand promise,” Joester says. “The John Morrell Food Group has been a leading U.S.-based supplier to some of the highest-quality pet food brands for years, and Animal Planet marks the introduction of its own branded product line.”

On the pet-grooming side, Discovery Communications and JLG are working with Fantasia, a company with expertise in skin care and grooming for children and adults. The Animal Planet wet grooming product line will provide pet owners with the same high standards found in grooming products manufactured for children.

“The initial line comprises shampoo, conditioner and dog deodorizing body mist,” Joester says. ”The priority is to ensure products are safe for pets and pet owners as they come into contact with the grooming product.”

The key to continued success for Animal Planet products is the proactive and collaborative relationship with Discovery Communication and JLG. Together, the two teams identify goals and opportunities,and then work with licensees to ensure innovation and quality.

Retail development is an ongoing priority, and JLG’s retail team gets Animal Planet’s products in front of the right buyers at the right times. Discovery Communications and JLG work with licensees to promote synergy and ensure a cohesive brand approach.

“The Discovery team at JLG collaborates with Discovery Communication on product, marketing and retail initiatives,” Joester says. “We work particularly closely with Discovery’s creative group, which has brought a distinct vision and design direction to the program.”

Giving Back, Looking Ahead

Animal Planet has long been committed to protecting animals and their habitats. Animal Planet’s pet programs are also tied to the network’s “Reach Out. Act. Respond.” (R.O.A.R.) program. Proceeds from the sale of Animal Planet branded products are designated for R.O.A.R. initiatives that protect both domestic animals and wildlife. In 2010, licensed product sales contributed $200,000 to R.O.A.R.’s efforts to support animal welfare and habitat groups. In 2011, Animal Planet partnered with Global Giving for a matching giving campaign that resulted in an additional $200,000 in donations to nonprofit organizations supported by R.O.A.R.

“Consumers and retailers have been very receptive to the R.O.A.R. campaigns,” Joester says. “Our goal is to draw attention to R.O.A.R.’s contributions and find creative ways for retailers and consumers to join R.O.A.R. in protecting animals and their habitat.”

Both Discovery Communication and JLG are bullish about the potential for Animal Planet branded pet products, expecting to see double-digit growth as it is further established as a leading brand across all pet categories. Discovery Communications and JLG also are finding ways to explore new retail channels beyond pet specialty and retailers.

In fall 2012, Animal Planet will introduce the sub-brand, Pets 101. Pets 101 was developed to meet demand for access to Animal Planet pet products by volume retailers and will deliver the same quality and value consumers have come to expect from Animal Planet pet products.

“Pet owners have shown they are willing to pay a little extra for brands they trust to deliver the safety and quality they seek for their pets,” Joester says. “Consumers trust Animal Planet for their pet needs, and we anticipate continued robust growth as the brand becomes a top choice for pet owners.”