Royal Canin Turns to McKinney for Branding

First work, a digital effort, to break next month

Fourteen months into his tenure as U.S. president of pet food player Royal Canin, Keith Levy is ready to plant his brand flag.

Historically, the company’s marketing has been modest and largely tactical—some in-store marketing supported by public relations initiatives. Now, however, Levy, the former head of U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch, is readying a digital campaign from new agency McKinney in Durham, N.C. that’s slated to launch in about a month.

Later in the year, Royal Canin may add print or outdoor ads to the mix. But for the time being, Levy is happy to be rooted online, with a combination of rich media, video and social media tactics. After all, the Web is where most consumers research what he has to sell: dog and cat food that’s tailored to pets’ nutritional needs.

Royal Canin has been around a long time—since 1968—but its global headquarters is in France and the company has a low profile in the U.S., despite being a unit of Mars. For example, Nielsen recorded less than $1,000 in media spending on the brand last year and nothing in 2011. Levy isn’t discussing future spending plans but it’s likely to grow significantly under the new shop.

Just having an ad agency is new for Royal Canin, which previously relied on specialist shops such as Callahan Creek and Paradowsky Creative for in-store marketing. PR shop Olson just came aboard this month. Those shops remain in the mix, but McKinney is leading brand building efforts.

Why McKinney? Well, Levy was impressed by the shop’s strategic thinking, ads and results for marketers such as Nationwide and Sherwin-Williams. Also, during a series of meetings, he bonded with agency leaders like CEO Brad Brinegar and CCO Jonathan Cude. Levy further cited the agency's “learning agility and an insatiable curiosity about our business.”

Royal Canin, whose U.S. base is in St. Louis, represents McKinney’s foray into the pet food business.

Noting that his new client seeks to “satisfy the needs of the pet and not the desires of the pet owner,” Brinegar said: “That’s a provocative, powerful stand we plan to explore in order to bring pet owners and Royal Canin together in unexpected and delightful ways.”