In the late Eighties, Felix catfood was a minor player in a mature market. Although share was steady, it faced the threat of delisting by the major multiples, which wanted to give greater shelf space to the more profitable cat treat and own-label sectors.
Felix was in a weak position to face such a challenge: it came in relatively few flavours and lacked a distinct identity, having never been advertised. As far as cat owners were concerned, this lack of identity was a problem: they are understandably reluctant to test the merits of different catfoods, so the kind of reassurance that only a strong brand can bring plays a key role in their shopping decisions.
To secure its long-term future, Felix was relaunched in May 1989 with an advertising budget of 250,000 – the first in the brand’s history. The objective was to give Felix an identity which would persuade non-users to try the brand and existing buyers to buy more regularly.
The initial budget was equivalent to what the market leader, Whiskas, spent every eight days. Spillers’ agency BMP DDB knew it had to break the market’s advertising conventions. But it found it didn’t have to be different just for difference’s sake and devised a way to address cat owners in a new and, crucially, highly motivating way.
The strategy was based on a simple observation from qualitative research. The rational and idealised approach of competitors’ advertising didn’t reflect what most cat owners really appreciated about their pets. Everyone else portrayed cats as “bundles of affectionate fluff”.
However, what appealed to owners were their cats’ roguish personalities and cheeky exploits. The advertising sought to persuade those owners that Spillers also knew exactly what cats liked to eat.
Instead of using real cats – like Pedigree – BMP brought this strategy to life, using a little black and white cat called Felix. He first popped up in small-scale press executions.
Then, in 1991, as Spillers increased the ad budget, Felix the cat moved onto TV. But instead of appearing in bursts Felix ads appeared week after week during slots in the same programmes. This approach gave cat-owning viewers the impression the Felix brand was bigger than it actually was.
The ads had a dramatic effect on consumer attitudes. Bet-ween November 1989 and June 1996 Felix’s spontaneous brand awareness increased from 29 to 57 per cent. Ad awareness increased from eight to 45 per cent, as did perceptions of its popularity, quality, and suitability for mischievous cats (from nine to 24 per cent, 17 to 38 per cent, and 12 to 34 per cent respectively).
This effect on attitudes translated into consumer behaviour. The number of consumers buying Felix more than tripled between 1989 and 1996. And these customers were extremely loyal. Felix’s average purchase weight, frequency, and “share of repertoire” all exceeded those of its nearest competitors.
In the seven years since Felix’s relaunch, volume share grew from 6.7 per cent to 25.4 per cent. Sales modelling shows that the 17m spent on advertising – up to August 1995 – led to a direct increase in sales of 108m.
COMPANY: SPILLERS PETFOODS
Marketing director uk petfoods: pete farrand
Marketing manager uk catfood: john montgomery
AGENCY: BMP DDB NEEDHAM
Board account director: caroline beeson
Account planners: olivia johnson/richard butterworth
Creative director: tony cox