INDUSTRY Viewpoint

Paul Cousins, General manager crackers and snacks, The Jacob’s Bakery

Cats like Felix like Felix”. It’s true. And it’s not just roguish black and white moggies but ginger toms, Siamese, Maine Coons, and hordes of others too. It was this fact, and not the advertising, that first came to my notice when I was a competitor to the then Quaker-owned brand. It’s palatability was what really worried me. After all, however good the advertising may be, the ultimate brand choice is made by the cats – notoriously fussy consumers who studiously ignore clever endlines.

This high palatability, coupled with keen pricing, helped to build Felix’s share rapidly. It would be an exaggeration then, to say that the ads alone built the brand. It was a combination of factors that generated the growth and, as with many marketing success stories, advertising’s role was to support an excellent product, and this it did extremely well.

Until recently the other major players – Arthur’s and Whiskas – focused on “expert” endorsement; formulaic and paternalistic with Whiskas, or wry and avuncular with Arthur’s. Felix breaks the rules. The “spokescat” is an average moggy with which all cat owners can identify.

The original press ads introduced the character and the campaign, then neatly translated into animated TV versions. Full marks for consistency of message and execution.

The innovative media strategy also deserves praise. Mono press ads are not widely used in this market, so the initial impact was very high. The added advantage was that executions could be turned around rapidly to capitalise on newsworthy or seasonal events, making the brand appear up to the minute. Then comes the clever use of the “targeted drip” approach on TV, which was, we are assured, highly effective in building awareness. Presumably production costs are also relatively low; so why is Spillers not spending more on air time?

Now is a crucial time for it to increase investment. Pedigree has finally woken up, after years of staid, lethargic marketing. It is using its knowledge of cat behaviour and the pet/human bond and has produced some beautifully crafted Whiskas ads.

How will Spillers respond? Hopefully we will see more of the black and white moggy, but perhaps it will also look at other brands in its portfolio. While Pedigree’s Kit-e-Kat is looking old-fashioned and moribund, Spillers has strong back-ups to Felix. How will it develop an overall strategy for catfood? Will it invest more to sustain its brands in the long term? Pedigree certainly will; dominance and brand building being the key words in its lexicon. The claws are out and fur is bound to fly.

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