Where did Blue Buffalo go wrong? One day they are the fastest-growing brand of natural pet food. The next day they’re marked down. Blue Buffalo seemed to have all the makings of a successful brand – a pull-at-your-heart-strings back story about a boy and his dog, market insights, a handle on category trends, and a growing and loyal brand community.
Well, it turns out that their “True Blue” claims aren’t quite true.
In 2014, Purina Pet foods filed a lawsuit against Blue Buffalo for false adverting after they completed independent blind studies on some of Blue Buffalo’s formulas, which indicated they included poultry by-products, corn, and rice hulls, despite advertising that their formulas contain no by-products and that some are grain-free. Blue Buffalo responded by denying the results and then later directed blame at their ingredient suppliers. No known efforts have been made by Blue Buffalo to inform consumers, remove mislabeled products from retail, issue a recall, offer refunds or take any responsibility.
Being a parent of four fur babies myself, one of which has a severe grain intolerance, I found this deeply disconcerting. I, like many pet owners, feel that our pets are part of the family and go to great lengths to find safe food options for them. This truth was the insight Blue Buffalo clung to with tag lines like, “Love them like family. Feed them like family.” … and, “We don’t own our dogs and cats; they’re family members we treat with love and respect.”
This insight, paired with the stigma surrounding “by-products”, was Blue Buffalo’s golden ticket to positioning themselves as the “Absolute Best Pet Food” with brand promises to “set a new standard in healthy pet food” and “guarantee you’ll be completely satisfied.” Of course, this promise of a better quality product comes with a higher price tag. But for many, the added cost is worth the added benefits.
Take a look at any of their commercials. They all contain two main takeaways.
1) Tell consumers that other brands have by-products and Blue Buffalo does not
2) If you love your pets like family, you should feed them the best (no by-products), a.k.a Blue Buffalo.
It seems like a simple enough concept. Unless of course your product does in fact contain the ingredient you are criticizing other brands for using…
Despite all this, the brand itself does have many redeeming qualities. For instance, they take part in many positive initiatives like the Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research & promoting animal adoption by sponsoring Animal Shelters and featuring their “Blue Shelter Stars”. Will this be enough for their brand community, to forgive and forget? Or will responses from brands like Purina, “Where Honesty Is Our First Ingredient,” cause consumers to make the switch?
Remember a brand’s greatest advocate is its brand community. These relationships are built on respect, reciprocity, transparency, and trust. Don’t take them for granted. Nobody’s perfect, but when faced with a circumstance such as this, it’s better to come clean and make amends rather than try to pull a fast one and lose face.