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Whiskas cat food hopes to reverse a sales slide in its flagship line by aiming its newest ad at the consumer. Yes, cats.

Starting June 3, Mars Inc.'s Kal-Kan division will bring to the U.S. a 30-second TV spot populated with rustling leaves, a ball of yarn, and other sounds, images and colors designed to attract cats' attention. A 15-second teaser will run shortly before the spot for new Whiskas Homestyle Favorites brand, alerting cat owners to round up their pets for some quality time near the tube.

The commercial, originally created by M&C Saatchi, London, already has aired in Europe for U.K. and French felines. It's been adapted for this country by Kal-Kan's domestic shop, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis.


A full 60% of 300 surveyed cats turned their heads toward the TV, perked up their ears, pawed at the TV screen or exhibited other favorable responses to the ad, claimed John Curtiss, Kal-Kan VP-marketing.

The spot will run for a week on ABC, CBS, and NBC during prime time, said Mr. Curtiss, who declined to discuss the budget for the cat-friendly Homestyle launch.

The eight meat and fish flavors are a packaging first for the domestic industry, featuring foil-packaged single servings of wet cat food. They will be sold in packages of 12, which will cost about $4, which he said is comparable to other wet cat foods.

Mr. Curtiss hopes the campaign will pique "consumers' interest so that they basically say 'someone who understands my cat well enough to devise a commercial with stimulants that my cat actually responds to probably understands my cat well enough to provide us with a food my cat will like.' "

Cat food is a $2.3 billion a year business, with canned food accounting for slightly more than half that total. But canned sales have been declining while dry cat food sales have increased, according to Information Resources Inc. Kal-Kan is counting on the Homestyle pouch to steal business from dry cat foods and to help revitalize the sagging canned segment.

Prudential Securities' food Analyst John McMillin suggested that with the new product Kal-Kan is seeking a greater share of the dry cat-food market owned by industry leader Ralston Purina Co. Its brands take seven of the top 10 dry cat food slots, according to Information Resources Inc.

The Whiskas Homestyle Favorites brand occupies "middle ground," Mr. McMillin said.

The limited-time spot won't replace Kal-Kan's current Whiskas campaign featuring the animated Chuck and Marvin, created by DMB&B, which remains aimed at cat owners, Mr. Curtiss said.


Even though he said this is probably the first time anyone has run an ad targeted to pets, he's not worried late-night comedians may poke fun at the new advertising campaign.

"I think cat owners and viewers will appreciate what we are doing," he said.

Whiskas is trying to revive its base canned cat-food brand, which has seen U.S. sales drop 3% to $62 million for the 52 weeks ended April 25, according to IRI. Its Tender Morsels canned line, however, climbed 14% to $11.5 million during that time.

In the U.K., at least, Mr. Curtiss said sales shot up 20% after its kitty campaign.

But Mr. McMillin was skeptical it could draw a cat's attention.

"At least when you say your dog's name, your dog will look at you. If you say

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