Animals & Money: Pet companies jump on the adopt-a-pet bandwagon

When Pedigree has a Super Bowl ad this week, it won't be advertising dog and cat food, but pet adoptions. The pet food industry has discovered cause advertising. It's a form of advertising that links a product to a feel-good cause. Instead of companies just blowing money on ads that tell you how great they are, they actually do something great.

Emmis Marketing says that 87% of consumers would switch to a brand associated with a cause over a comparable brand. Pedigree's director of marketing, John Anton, recently told The Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Every time we run this campaign, we see increased sales."

Not to be outdone, Purina has several programs: It gives food to shelters, pays adoption fees for seniors and advertizes for the adoption cause. Hill's Science Diet sponsored Change a Pet's Life Day this weekend, paying for the first 10 adoptions at shelters around the country. Iams works with Adoptapet.com and says its Home for the Holidays program has put 1 million dogs and cats in homes over the last decade. Iams donates food and each of the pets goes home with an Iams starter kit

Consumers rightly question whether big brands are really putting some muscle into their pet causes or just slapping a few phrases on their bags.