Have you seen Fancy Feast's ad campaign that launched last summer and is still going strong? It's pretty bonkers in that it barely features cats, cat food and is mainly about a human couple -- who you never hear talk -- getting married. Here, watch the first one, a minute-long commercial called "the engagement:"
There's a whole series of these, and it's savvy in that it also involves social media by having fans vote on what the couple should wear on the big day -- but still, what the heck does this have to do with cat food? Not a whole lot.
So why is it so successful?
"It's clear why this is so successful: it's evocative," says Steven Mason, a self-styled "creative deconstructionist." "The key is this: great brands stand for something and that the representations of those brands evoke in the audience an emotional response." In this case, it's a cat.
And more to the point, it appeals to the segment of the audience that predominantly buys cat food: women. Bill Guertin, CEO of Bourbonnais-based marketing firm The 800-Pound Gorilla offered this: "Pet food is a unique category because it's not marketed to the end consumer. Whatever appeals to the buyer is going to win, which isn't necessarily what's appealing to the cat. If the cans were labeled 'Bird Guts,' cats would love them, but it would be a lousy seller."
True. But this shows up in commercials aimed at humans, too, like Denny's ongoing "Always Open" series, which is essentially just comedian Dave Koechner hanging out with one of his funny buddies (like Jason Bateman or Amy Poehler) and goofing around, talking -- which is what people usually do at Denny's, anyway:
Back to Fancy Feast, though, not everyone is convinced it's that successful. "The campaign is more likely unsuccessful, overall," says Tammy Katz, CEO of Katz Marketing Solutions and a former brand marketing executive for companies like Frito-Lay and Miller Brewing Company. "There's no
major message persuading consumers that Fancy Feast is in any way superior or different… the campaign stresses owners' love of their pets, which is true for any brand."
Maybe so. But Fran Liscio, a former advertising copywriter breaks down, via email, why these commercials might subconsciously be extremely successful:
When they are buying gifts, everything the postmenopausal sales woman shows them represents (a) an enormous white plate (unbroken hymen for life) (b) some heinous big hand blown European blown glass bowl that looks like a hideously stretched out vagina and 3.) a long stemmed goblet that represents the uterus. The long stem represents that the possibility of children is there, but she is not ready yet. However, it is the first piece she actually reaches for to examine. Then, the groom, noticing this, goes over and gets the tiniest little crystal dish--he gently hands her this model of a crystal hymen. In doing so he promises to treat her gently and carefully for life and to never get in the way of her love for her cat. Cat owners feel terrible ambiguity when they marry/have children. They have developed such deep love for their pet that they always fear they will symbolically 'murder' the pet in order to bond in a mature way with another human.
I don't know about all that. But I do know that for a series of videos featuring cats on the Internet, it has people turning heads -- and that's no small feat at all.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.