Monday, May 15, 2017
by Justine Clarke

Cat-vertising?
It’s paw-sitively claw-some.

As a self-confessed 'cat lady' who can’t walk down the street without blowing kisses to a fluffy moggy blinking dozily in a window or stopping to tickle a cuddly cat en route to work, I have a one-track mind for all things feline. Yet as much as the naysayers may poke fun at this oddity, it’s quite apparent that I am not in the minority, so let’s not delude ourselves. Humans have been obsessed with cats since the beginning of time; Ancient Egyptians considered them to be magical creatures, so much so that they even came to be revered as demigods. The Romans kept cats as mascots, keeping them close on their travels as they conquered land after land. Today, cats are prolific in the world of advertising. People love cats. Advertising loves people. Therefore advertising loves cats. Cats SELL.

Why cats over and above other animals though? Well, the obvious answer is that cats are popular. With their large eyes and dainty noses, perhaps they remind us of human infants, and so our fascination with kitty may well be rooted in our biology. A cat purring away her afternoon is an archetype of wellbeing, enjoying the good things in life in the warm, safe environment of one’s home. That’s quite a lot of important feelings on which to hook a good message and many advertisers take this approach.

It’s fair to say that domestic animals are physically the closest animals to us consumers, which makes them instantly and universally relatable. Around 40% of households have pets, 17% of which are cats. This can therefore help a brand to build a relationship with its audience from the word go. Images of cats give people an instant emotional reaction – whether they seem like adorable fluffballs or sociopathic allergen creators, the resultant reaction will help a product or service to sell. And even in the pre-Internet era, cats were used to sell everything from cars to cigarettes. We live in a world of cat-vertising. And I’m not just talking about the cute black and white moggy in the Felix advert.

Just take a look at Compare the Market’s meerkats: they’ve become probably one of the most successful advertising creations of recent times. Since their arrival back in 2009 they’ve been credited with more than doubling the value of the business, leading to several spin-off microsites, a range of cult-status cuddly toys, and the birth of a catchphrase that’s become so popular it’s now officially in the Collins English Dictionary – simples! Who’d have thought an animated meerkat in a smoking jacket with a random Russian accent could become so popular?

We have also seen a number of hugely successful campaigns from the likes of Freeview, which celebrated the unlikely friendship between a cat and a budgie; McVitie's, delivering crumbly cuddles inside packets of biscuits; and of course, O2’s ‘Be More Dog’ campaign, heroing a cat who acts like a dog, thereby encouraging us all to break the mould and be more…dog-like. (A cunning way of raising the ‘are you a cat or a dog person?’ debate that’s been around for decades – at Denfield, we’re definitely team cat.)

In 2011, Cravendale Milk’s advert featuring cats with thumbs racked up more than 7 million views on YouTube, and the company says brand awareness increased 10 per cent and sales grew by 8 per cent thanks to the musical cats’ popularity. A Cravendale Milk commercial featuring a cow, which was released at the same time, had just 220,000 views – cows may have a more obvious connection to milk, but they just can’t compete with the humour and likeability of an animated cat.

Whoever came up with the old media adage ‘never work with children or animals’ had obviously never experienced the wondrous world of the Internet. In fact, in terms of viral marketing, it would be difficult to find a more potent mix of conversation triggers. Animal videos in particular have evolved into an online genre all of their own, and companies are increasingly using animal ambassadors to promote their brands.

So, are we getting ‘cat-fatigue’? No, I actually don’t think we are. Last autumn there was an ambitious ad satire in the form of a cat takeover at Clapham Common tube station. The Citizens’ Advertising Takeover Service (CATS) launched a campaign with the rallying cry #catsnotads, displaying cat photos in place of the usual adverts for food delivery, weight-loss services and dating sites.

Whether it’s big cats such as those on the Lion Bar or our treasured 'Mog' in the Sainsbury’s Christmas promotion, love or loathe our feline friends, you can never escape them. To me, they’ll always be purrrfect (sorry, last pun).