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BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW;OH ISN'T THAT CUTE? CAT FOOD SPOT WORKS

By Published on .

The thing about cat owners is, they will not concede mere catness. They are entranced, bemused and given to imagining all sorts of anthropomorphic behavior by their pets.

"Oh, look, Snowflake is walking with her head held up. She's being haughty!"

"See how little Mittens cuddles with baby Jennifer? He loves baby Jennifer!"

"Look! Look! Tiger is scratching at the door again. See how he questions artificial constructs of `decorum' and `order' and embraces an existential reality entirely within his own feline ontology?"

Imputing to their pets the scope of Aristotle, the grace of Fred Astaire, and the dry wit of Garfield (no relation), cat fanciers are therefore just about advertising's easiest targets. If the first goal of a TV spot is to capture the attention of the target audience, then the only prerequisite for primary success in cat food is to photograph a cat.

Photograph one chasing a ball of string. Photograph one stroking his master's leg. Photograph one on the way to the vet, puking in the back seat of the car. Your target audience will be glued-not to say fixed-to the screen.

So when M&C Saatchi Agency, London, was awarded the tiny little Whiskas slice of the Mars business, which Maurice Saatchi had so cultivated at his previous agency, getting an attentive audience was never much of an issue.

Leading the viewer to the sell-well, that is another matter. Thus did the agency contrive to manipulate the cat-fancying psyche step by step, beginning with a bit of conventional wisdom.

"Cats are very independent," says the title card, as we see a woman walking her cat on a leash. "Cats hate water," says the next card, and this time we see a cat happily taking a bath. And, of course, by now we also see where this is all going. Truisms stated, and then immediately disabused. For, after all, only a cat fancier understands the richness of personality and inner complexity of their pets.

"Cats are predators," says the next, and the image is of a cat stalking some unknown prey right out of the frame, and then right back in, because now the cat is fleeing and the prey-a little mouse-is in pursuit.

"Cats relieve stress," is the next. And now it is a couple in bed. She sleeps soundly but he tosses and turns to an incessant meowing. Turns out she is cuddling kitty under the covers.

"Cats hate dogs." Well, you can imagine. A big Airedale is sitting in the rain, soaked to the dander, while a cute little kitten finds dry shelter against his belly.

Then, finally, the payoff. The title card says "Cats love New Whiskas," and we see a bowl of cat food sitting on a kitchen floor, neglected. But, yes, a cat scoots into the frame and starts chowing down, so that the final title card says merely, "Phew."

This is a long way to go to get to New Whiskas, but we have arrived. And instead of just admiring the cast, we have been forced to focus on the advertised product. This is no small success. Because M&C Saatchi's hope for more Mars business is a prodigious leap, and-contrary to popular wisdom-a cat does not always land on its feet.

To submit TV campaigns for review, send 3/4- or 1/2-inch NTSC-format videotapes to Bob Garfield, Ad Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801, USA.

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