No celebrities. No humor. No zowie computer graphics or cool music. As TV ads go, the one making its debut tomorrow night is frankly unimpressive. Unless you're a cat.
Exploring new frontiers in niche marketing, Whiskas cat food will unveil a 30-second spot featuring sounds and visuals--rustling leaves, rodenty squeaks, bouncy toys--calculated to appeal directly to its furry consumers. To ensure that the target audience tunes in, the spot is preceded by a 15-second teaser in which an announcer intones, "In a few moments, you'll see the first-ever commercial for cats. . . . Make sure your cat is watching."
Leave aside, for the moment, the conceit that a human can "make sure" a cat does anything at all. The ad, which first aired in kitty-conscious Britain, "is based on some serious cat research," says animal behaviorist Ian Robinson of the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England, a facility owned--like the Whiskas brand--by M&M/Mars. It was the Waltham scientists who advised that the spot include high-pitched sounds, "vocalizations" from other cats, high-contrast images such as a mouse silhouette in a bright spotlight, and lots of motion.
Researchers then determined that 60 percent of viewers in what can only be called feline focus groups did evince some response, albeit broadly defined. "Some just show interest by stopping what they're doing," Robinson reports. "Some assume a listening posture, ears pricked forward, head cocked as if they're paying attention. Some of them approach the TV, paw and sniff it. We've even had cats climb on top of the TV and reach down and paw the screen."
As they are unlikely to subsequently head for the local A&P, however, the more significant targets are their human companions--who are supposed to respond not to squeaks but to subtext. "Here's a company actually trying to get the attention of their pet," Whiskas marketing veep John Curtiss says brightly. "Wouldn't that be the same kind of company that would provide us with a wonderful new product?"--like the foil-pouched Whiskas Homestyle Favorites being hereby launched.
Possibly. But in case the fascination of staring at a ball of yarn wears off quickly, the ad--adapted from the U.K. version by D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles in St. Louis--will air for just a week. Then it's back to more prosaic, your-tabby-will-swoon product claims--leaving intact all those comfortable illusions about which party, in the cat-human dyad, is the master.
CAPTION: Whiskas goes for the furry demographic with its new commercial for cats, airing tomorrow. The ad "is based on some serious cat research," says animal behaviorist Ian Robinson.