(Editor's note: Even if you don't want to learn about why and how to infuse your marketing with cats, you'll get to see a lot of adorable kitten photos and videos if you read this article. That's worth it on its own, no?)
Cats already run the internet
Since the beginning of the internet, there have been cat videos. Why do we find cats so funny? I think Robert De Niro explains it best.
Let's face it: Cats are jerks. I love my cat, but when he wanders in the bedroom at 3 a.m. because I'm sleeping on "his" pillow, I understand the frustrating love we all have for them. The popularity of cats in American culture has bled into the internet to the point where you can barely go anywhere online without seeing one. Cat memes are the most popular type of captioned image on the web. There are entire websites dedicated to nothing but cats, including CuteOverload.com, CuteBoysWithCats.com, CashCats.biz, and CatsThatLookLikeHitler.com. If you're wondering about that last one, here's what one looks like:
Their popularity is measurable. According to a University of Texas study, while America tends to favor dogs, "cat people" are generally 12 percent more neurotic and 11 percent more extraverted than dog people. This helps to explain why feline overload on the web is with us to stay.
As a digital marketer in the internet age, here's why you need to use this to your brand's advantage.
Kia centered an entire digital campaign around a cat
Let's begin by looking at an example of a major brand that took a chance with cats and found huge success. In 2011, H20 Media decided to promote the Kia Picanto in a digital campaign that set the bar for online innovation. The brand could have simply repurposed this Picanto commercial:
But instead, it decided to extend the story and craft a digital campaign that was told from the perspective of Henry the Cat, the co-star of the ad. On an interactive website, the cat takes us on a tour of the car and its features. Henry walks (on cat level) the visitor through an experience and displays the features, jumps in and out of the car, and watches funny videos with the visitor as they learn about the product.
In addition, a Facebook app was created called the Roaar-O-Meter where you can record yourself roaring using a webcam and microphone. Depending on how loud you are, the sound is transformed into either a lion's roar or a kitty's meow. There's a high score list, multiple sharing features, and a "challenge friends" function so friends can join in. This social integration gave people the ability to engage personally with the brand, all through the lens, perspective, and context of a cat.
They also created the Fight for your Picanto app for game-orientated users. It's basically a G-rated Mortal Combat, except you use adorable felines as your fighting friends. A new touch control system was developed specifically for the application. You can challenge your friends to a cat fight all while being visually branded by the Kia Picanto.
Kia was able to create an amazingly successful traditional commercial, digital interactive campaign, social strategy, and mobile gaming app all from the context provided by this little guy:
Next, we'll see how Kia took on internet memes as well.
Cats rule internet memes
As I mentioned before, cat memes are the most popular type of captioned image on the web. As a digital marketer, it might be easy to look at internet memes as a low quality and juvenile way of promoting your brand. Kia took a different approach.
Partnering with Cheezburger, Kia took its promotion of the Sorento to unexplored levels in December when it created the "Seasons Memeing Contest." It encouraged fans on the site to caption memes featuring the Kia Sorento Crossover vehicle. Here are a few of the awesome entries:
Memes from Cheezburger.com
Despite what you think of them, at the end of the day, Kia was able to get consumers to take the time to create content for the brand. If you're wondering what young consumer brand engagement looks like, this is it.
Next, we'll take a look at another example of a brand whose sales exploded because of cats.
The "Cats With Thumbs" ad exploded sales for this brand
Have you ever heard of Cravendale milk? Neither have I. Have you ever heard of "Cats with Thumbs?" Me too.
This British milk brand worked with Wieden + Kennedy to produce the wildly popular ad "Cats with Thumbs."
So why didn't this milk brand decide to use a cow in its commercial? That would've made more sense, right? Maybe because that same year it did.
The commercial with the cow has received 203,000 views so far. "Cats with Thumbs?" Almost 7 million.
You could argue that "Cats with Thumbs" is just a better commercial, but take a close look at both of them. Both are funny, both have high production values, and both are the same length. "Cats with Thumbs" tapped into something deeper than just a milk promotion. It shifted people's feelings toward the brand itself. It deepened the relationship between the audience and the brand.
Need proof? After "Cats with Thumbs" aired, Cravendale saw:
- Brand awareness increase of 10 percent
- Sales increase of 8 percent
- 7 million YouTube views
- Voted in the top 10 best commercials of 2011 by Adweek
Not to mention that Bertrum (the cat in the ad) received his own Facebook page. The page currently has more than 84,000 "likes."
What were cats able to provide Cravendale? More brand awareness, a positive brand outlook, a dramatic sales increase, and a popular consumer driven mascot. For one ad, that's enough for any marketer to go:
Next up, we'll explore the psychology behind consumers' love of cats.
Cats create emotional connections to brands
There is a direct and proven connection between sales volumes and the emotion connection your audience has toward a brand. Unfortunately, emotions are not something you can buy. They are something you have to earn by being bold in your messaging. Playing it safe doesn't do it anymore.
Cat owners have been shown to treat and see their cats as family members. They provide people with therapy and emotional comfort.
People tend to take their personal experiences and project them onto products. I get tense when I see an airplane because I hate flying (regardless of the airline). I get excited when I see a roller coaster because I love riding in them (regardless of the theme park). Cat lovers love seeing cats. They'll project that good feeling onto your brand if they see them together in a fun and memorable way. Combine that with the sheer popularity cats have on the internet, and you might just have the makings of a fail-proof digital campaign. Here are just a few advertisements (not about cat products) that capitalized on the power of a good, expressive feline photo.
Enfapro Powdered Milk
Next we'll look at the anatomy of why customers connect so deeply with our feline friends.
Cats project human emotions
Theologian Albert Schweitzer once said, "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
If you want your audience to laugh, share, and be entertained, nothing does it better than a good cat photo. In fact, the grey matter in cats' brains share intense similarities to ours, proving that cats feel emotions that are very similar to people's. Cats' expressions of happiness, excitement, anger, playfulness, and surprise are all relatable and personalized emotions we connect with.
What immediate benefits can your brand see from cats? We'll discuss that next.
Cats can help re-introduce your old brand to Millennials
Traditional brands have an increasingly large problem: connecting with the youth. It's not surprising that a seasoned company and veteran marketers would have a hard time looking at this:
And think this:
Marketers don't usually associate cats with a successful marketing tool. But the reality is that a picture of this British Shorthair cat was so popular that it helped spur the creation of one of the most popular websites in the world, Cheezburger.com.
While its valuation remains unknown, Cheezburger has raised more than $32 million dollars from investors. That's a lot of cheddar for a website full of memes. Or rather, that's a lot of cheez.
According to Quantcast, the site pulls in 3.6 million monthly readers, more than half of which are under the age of 34. If you want to reach young people quickly, you need to know your memes. If you want to know your memes, you need to know cats. If you can use them wisely (and hysterically), you can generate a huge amount of consumer engagement from the Millennial generation.
A lot of brands don't want their products to have a humorous association, which is something that cats inherently produce. But think about this: Who would have thought a year ago that an American beer company would produce one of the most emotional and serious Super Bowl commercials ever?
Budweiser is a brand just begging for a funny advertisement, especially during the Super Bowl. If it can be bold and take its campaign to a different emotional place, your seemingly serious brand can certainly get away with a successful funny campaign. What's the fastest way to ensure success in today's youth driven digital environment?
Next, you'll read why cats are a good idea simply from a numbers perspective.
Cats get huge internet views
Digital marketers love engagement. We've already seen from Kia that using cats wisely can give consumers a fun and highly engaging digital experience. The next thing marketers love is campaign popularity. Marketers want their work to go viral. Did you know that six of the top 10 most popular animal videos on the web are cat videos?
Cats go viral with more frequency and speed than any other internet animal. If you want your brand to get seen, throw a cat in your campaign, and you'll certainly get people's attention. Once that first step is accomplished, seamlessly mix in branding, messaging, information, and call-to-actions. A great example is this hilarious Electronic Data Systems Corp. commercial.
EDS didn't upload this to YouTube, but it's all over the internet with more than 4 million views because people loved it and wanted to share it. Whether they know it or not, they are also sharing a brand. That's powerful organic awareness, and it's thanks in large part to dozens of cats.
Lastly, a word of warning when using cats in your marketing.
Cats have a passionate following, so don't make fun of them
Finally, if you decide to create an ad campaign with cats, do yourself a favor and don't make fun of them. Audiences don't like it when you point out the joke you're trying to go for, especially if you're trying to sell something. It's comes across as tacky, like in this Toyota RAV4 commercial.
This ad was launched in March 2012 and only has 141,000 views. That's just sad. Audiences simply didn't find it funny, and a huge part of it was because they were poking fun at cats being so popular online. This ad has a real feeling of elitism. Cats are a force unlike any other, and people are genuinely passionate about them. Treat them well and use them right. If you can remember that, cats will become powerful allies for your brand.
In this digital world, cats are a fun, exciting, and endearing animal to consider incorporating into your marketing strategy. The internet is waiting for your contribution to this undeniable feline phenomenon.
David Zaleski is the associate media producer for iMedia Connection.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"British shorthair cat, in front of purple background," "Evil looking hairless cat looking backwards," "Six cute kittens sitting inside in pastel containers," "Small gray tabby kitten meowing while sitting in the grass," "Black and white cat," "Cat in smart clothes with the money and red caviar on a white," "A Portrait of a Fat, Orange Tabby Cat Sitting, Isolated on White," "Close-up portrait photo of a CPA cat looking out through a window," "Surprised Cat," and "Tabby cat" images via Shutterstock.