How Nontraditional Thinking Keeps Meow Mix Purring Along

From Cafe to TV Show, Matthew Glass Uses Humor to Reach Cat Lovers

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Who: Matthew Glass, CEO, Grand Central Marketing, New York

Why you need to know him: Three words: "Meow Mix House." The first reality show starring cats premiered June 16 on Animal Planet and lives online as well.
Matthew Glass helped create 'Meow Mix House' on the Animal Planet. The reality show is the latest in a series of offbeat branded projects he has developed for the cat food company.

Credentials: Before opening Grand Central Marketing, an event-marketing and promotion agency, with partner Jennifer Granozio, Mr. Glass was director of operations and marketing for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. Before that, he was director of marketing at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. "Meow Mix House" is the third project GCM has produced for the Meow Mix Co., after the Meow Mix Cafe, the first restaurant for cats, and Meow TV, for which GCM oversaw a national tour to find kitty talent. The show was produced by the Meow Mix Co. and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, the company's advertising agency at the time. (Secaucus, N.J.-based Meow Mix Co. was founded in 2002 after Nestle purchased Ralston Purina and was ordered by the FTC to divest the Meow Mix and Alley Cat brands. The company is now privately held.)

What's the concept behind "Meow Mix House"? Similar to "Big Brother," 10 cats live in a Manhattan apartment for 10 days and vie for a job as feline VP-research and development with Meow Mix. Kitty challenges include the loudest purring, catching the most toy mice and the ever-difficult falling asleep the fastest. Contestants get "evicted" from the house each day until there is a winner. Cat lovers can also watch the cats in real-time online and vote for a favorite. A three-minute show produced by Meow Mix advertising agency MMB, Boston, airs weekly for 10 weeks on Animal Planet. GCM was responsible for the concept, public relations, scouting locations, set building, teaming with local shelters, casting the cats, website development and "celebrity wrangling," among other aspects of the production, Mr. Glass said.

How and why did you come up with the idea? "We initially presented the idea over a year ago after the success of the Meow Mix Cafe. Initially, we were planning to do something to promote the launch of Meow Mix's indoor formula for indoor cats. Who would have thought that reality programming would still be so hot? Who knows where it will stop now."

How does the "Meow Mix House" communicate the brand's message while providing entertainment value? "We don't need to be too overtly selling since Meow Mix is the presenter of the program and the brand is built into the set as product placement. We don't want to get in the way of the cats or the fun."

Were the cats chosen so they would be representative of the Meow Mix image? "No, we worked with each shelter to find the cat most likely to be able to handle the spotlight."

Drama between reality-show participants can be a big draw. Have there been any cat fights? Hair balls that just couldn't be kept down? "As with any good reality show, conflict is inevitable and entertaining, so you can expect to see some fur flying."

Have you gotten any feedback from Donald Trump, since the "Meow Mix House" seems reminiscent of "The Apprentice"? "No, but I hope that he likes it. Instead of 'You're fired,' our farewell line to the cats is 'You're meowta here!' Julie Chen, host of 'Big Brother' and 'The Early Show,' did call. CBS is filming at the house, and it will air on 'The Early Show' July 13 or 14, to coincide with the new season of 'Big Brother.'"

Meow Mix opened the cafe and created the first TV show for which cats were the target audience. What makes Meow Mix right for so many breakthrough promotional efforts, especially branded-entertainment efforts? "The Meow Mix positioning is 'Keeping cats happy,' so as with the Meow Mix Cafe and Meow TV, our initial idea of spoofing the reality-show craze was to do it from a cat's point of view. Cat owners treat their pets as best friends, and there's no limit to their devotion. GCM has worked with Meow Mix for the past four years, and the company has always been willing to do creative and humorous marketing that speaks to its dedicated customer base."

How do you measure success? "Exceeding agency and client goals and achieving results measured in brand awareness, sales growth and consumer interaction. Also, quality of execution and client retention."

Would you measure the "Meow Mix House" campaign a success because of the press it has gotten or for another reason? Media outlets including Newsweek, AP, Reuters, "Today," "E! News Daily," CNN, Fox News Channel, "Inside Edition," New York's daily tabloids, The New York Times and others have covered the promotion, Mr. Glass said. "The 'Meow Mix House' was designed to generate brand awareness, draw attention to cat adoption and engage cat owners and cat lovers. We've succeeded through our PR efforts, grassroots work with local shelters, traffic at the Meow Mix House and hits to the 'Meow Mix House' website."

There is still some confusion as to what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "The integration of a brand into the fabric of entertainment programming that benefits both."

What are some of the best examples of branded entertainment you've recently seen? "I think 'The Apprentice' does it well and in a way that is organic."

And the worst? "I think that the Ford music videos on 'American Idol' overdo it a bit."

What's on your TiVo? "Lately, all of the Meow Mix coverage."

What's on your iPod? "'The Office' podcasts, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Laura Nyro, classic stuff I grew up with."

Do you own a cat? If so, how many and what are their names? "Gypsy and Emily."

What do you do in your downtime? "Spend time with my family."