Thailand buddhist temple tigers

Thailand Buddhist Temple Tigers

buddhist temple tigersThe news about 40 dead tiger cubs at the Thailand Temple makes me cringe. So I ask, what is your personal responsibility in embracing a brand of Buddhist Temple Tigers as your own?

I’m going to make the argument that it is a deadly serious responsibility. One that most of us ignore (the root of the word ignorant).

Why should it surprise any of us that any tourist venues (and the Buddhist Temple resplendent with tigers was just that) that have us interact with animals in what appears to be an unnatural way is a form of exploitation. When we participate in this charade, we endorse it. It becomes our personal brand.

I remember as a kid my folks took my sister and I on a station wagon vacation. These types of vacations were the norm for my family so it wasn’t until my 16th birthday that I first rode in an airplane. My Dad drove us everywhere, but that is a meaty story for another day.

It was the summer of 1964 and our family began a cross country trek from our home in New Jersey to Yellowstone National Park. Mom and Dad were not the adventurous type and I don’t remember doing any REAL hiking in the park. On the contrary, my experience in the park was restricted to boardwalk pedestrian access to hot springs, photo oportunities and point of interest.

Buddhist Temple tigers are like bear jams

The highlight for me, the nine year old, was certainly the bear jams. A bear or a mother bear and her cubs took up a begging position on a main road and everyone filed out of the car to feed the begging animals candy, cookies or chips. When the ranger finally arrived and forced everyone to leave (because we were all in some danger, being inches away from a wild animal) the bear jam dispersed and everyone piled back in their cars seeking the next jam a mile or so up the road.

No one mentioned the danger TO the poor bear. No one said it was unnatural and unhealthy for a bear to become habituated to people, reliant on hand-outs for food and, worse still, nourished on a diet of human junk food.

Ten years later and the bears were gone. The National Park Service began to really crack down on tourists who stopped and fed bears. It closed the dumps in the park where bears congregated for easy food and installed bear-proof trash cans everywhere in the park.

Today, there may be an occasional bear jam but it is when a brownie or grizzly is spotted hundreds of yards away moving in its natural habitat. When you visit Yellowstone today, your brand is that of an unspoiled naturalist. Good for everyone. Including the bears.

But, as I scan Facebook for the comings and goings of friends and friends of friends, I can’t tell you how many, otherwise smart people, go to swim with the dolphins and think the animals are perfectly happy to haul humans around on their dorsal fins. My God. Watch The Cove and see just how these animals are captured and the amount of tranquilizers they must be fed to keep them docile and only a little crazy.

Outrage over the movie Black Fish has pressured Sea World to change its focus on Shamu (at least a little bit of change) and Ringling Brothers has retired its elephants.

How ignorant can we be?

Buddhist Temple TigersBut we are surprised that the Buddhist Temple tigers in Thailand, which has become de rigueur for Bangkok tourists who pay $100 to have their picture made with adult Tigers, is natural? What is it about these Buddhist monks that makes these solitary uber-predators docile? That’s easy. It’s called mistreatment. Tigers don’t care about your philosophy, vegetarian diet or religion. They don’t even care if you practice non-violence. Tigers are tigers.

They need our protection not domestication. Its easy to recognize that something terrible is actually going on.

So when you visit a dolphin enclosure, the Buddhist Temple Tigers, a circus (with trained lions and tigers) or a Sea World-type park, your brand is not innocent tourist. Your brand is exploitative human. Selfish and ignorant.

The pet industry and talking to our pets

For those of you who don’t believe that, as humans, we are always looking for meaning, I ask you this: Why do we talk to our pets? Do we expect them to answer? In a way, we do, even though such notion is ridiculous.

The primary reason that branding is so important in stealing market share is because, even when there is no meaning at all, we will instill meaning into that void.

Buying the premium food says more about us than our pets.
Buying the premium food says more about us than our pets.

It’s in that context that I bring up the pet industry, which is a $60 billion market – a shocking figure, especially when you consider that most of the things we buy for our pets (like, you know, clothes) are not needed by our pets.

In fact, just in the pet food arena, the growth market is among the premium foods, with 65% of dog owners and 55% of cat owners opting for the costlier food.

We are really buying ourselves.

Yes, we love our pets but there is something even more personal going on here, and has been for years. We’re not buying all those products – or shelling out hundreds of dollars for vet services – for the pets themselves. We’re doing it for ourselves. Little Fido could care less if he’s wearing a sweater when he goes outside. He wants to sniff and mark his territory.

Instead, we are inferring whatever meaning we can into our pets’ actions. When my dog, Teddy, is looking at me, I feel like he’s communicating something important and deep. What I glean from it comes from me, though, not Ted.

I bring this up because all brands must have meaning or your customers will infuse meaning into your brand. The danger with that is that the meaning could be negative or, more likely, have little impact because each consumer will inject a different meaning. When you mean so many different things to so many different people, you have little impact in the market and have no avenue to steal market share from your competition.

The pet industry has figured this out. That’s why they are increasing margins with high-priced, premium food even though I know Ted would just like a big steak, just like his dad. (Ahem. I mean, just like me.)

PetSmart purchase promising

It always amazes me when companies decide the way to increase profits is to cut costs. Like that’s a long-term strategy.

Instead, it’s really a way for company executives to make the next quarter’s reports look better and to appease shareholders. “Look,” the investors say. “The CEO is thinking about us and our dividends.”

That’s what PetSmart has been doing, cutting $200 million out of its budget in an attempt to fight off stale sales.

The focus should be on creating preference, not cutting costs.
The focus should be on creating preference, not cutting costs.

But there is a bit of sunshine rising over the horizon. PetSmart is about to be bought by private equity firm BC Partners, which will make the company private – therefore, not so beholden to shareholders.

This way, the company and BC Partners can think long term, although we’ll have to see if they follow the right path. You see, the reason why it amazes me that companies think cutting costs is the only way to be relevant again is that it eventually leads to its demise. (Think Circuit City.) You just keep cutting and cutting until there’s nothing left.

What PetSmart should be doing is investing in regaining its preference. In announcing the purchase, BC Partners said, “PetSmart is an iconic brand and the category leader in the growing pet retail industry.”

It’s not so iconic anymore. Sales are flat, there is greater competition (especially from the local shops) and online has eaten into its market share. PetSmart might be the market leader, but its preference among pet owners is shrinking.

BC Partners stated it does foresee a strategic overhaul and it does note that the US pet industry is booming – so it sees the opportunity.

But simply cutting costs will not seize the opportunity. There is a brand problem at PetSmart, which has been overlooked due to its market leadership. In fact, it’s when you are doing well when you should be vigilant in ensuring your brand does what it is supposed to do: Create preference.