I Can Has Advertisement?

I Can Has Advertisement?

Tearsheet is going to be a little different this week; instead of having someone else pick the ad we look at, I’m gonna do it. That’s right, this week it’s all about me. And all about furry animals. Furry animals who are taking the world by storm! Seriously, not a day goes by that I don’t get an IM message sending me to lol cats or cute overload or stuffonmycat or catsinsinks or kittenwar.com.

Huge, huge trend among the bored working-class. Here’s the ad that first caught my eye and made me think “hmmm it’s seeping into the ad brains”:

Thumbnail image for harveynichols.jpg

This one is for Harvey Nichols, which is basically the Barneys of London. I actually really like this ad. It reminds me of this framed poster my mom put on my wall when I was little. It had lots of kittens dressed up in Victorian-era fashion. I used to stare transfixed at them. Someone told me years later that the only way they got those kittens to sit so still was to use DEAD KITTENS. So I felt a momentarily worried when I saw these and called up the photographer, London-based Tim Flach, who photographs animals almost primarily, to see if he was a kitten-murderer. It turns out that not only does he not murder kittens, but he is extremely thoughtful and clever.

Here is the ad team:

Creative Director: Adam Tucker

Art Director: David Mackerse

Copywriter: Jonathan John

The concept was presented to Tim by DDB London. Basically the idea was to replicate a “catfight” (get it?); presumably, the cats are fighing over the clothes. Tim was really soft-spoken and sweet and when I demanded to know how he had contorted those cats, said things like: “you can’t do a lot in terms of bribing them”;”they don’t have knees in the way that we have knees”;”we had to lull them and tickle them to get them into kung fu poses.”

The actual shoot took a few days. First they shot all the interiors, which were done after hours in the Harvey Nichols store. Then they shot the cats. They didn’t do it all hodge-podge and fix it in post later, though; Tim is really big on getting the right series of poses at the time, and putting it together at the location. He was shooting with a Hasselblad H2 with a digital back, and looking at the images on a laptop as they processed. He’d have his assistant wear the actual outfit that the actual cat they were shooting was supposed to be wearing, so that it would feel “anthropomorphically believable” in the final shot.

And I think it does. And so did the Clio Awards.

NOW here’s where the twist comes in. When I was researching another animal photographer, Jill Greenberg, I came across these:



OK, so holy cow, those look a lot like the Harvey Nichols ads. These are for Fresh Step. The campaign won a 2007 Effie Award. Here’s how the ad team described their thinking:

“Our idea was to demonstrate that when you use Fresh Step, even cats
can’t smell their litter box. The Lost Litter Box idea was an
unexpected way to emphasize the effectiveness of Fresh Step’s
odor-eliminating carbon. Campaign results more than doubled objectives,
growing Fresh Step sales by 29% and category share by 18% in six months.”

Now, these look a lot like the Harvey Nichols ads to me, but sort of less good. Not as cute, less realistic. Guess what? Also produced by DDB, but DDB San Francisco.

The team on this one:

Lisa Bennett, Chief Creative Officer
Perry Portugal, Creative Dir.
Kelly Colchin, Art Dir.
Brett Landry, Copywriter
Stacey Grier, Chief Strategy Officer
Dave Wolf, Copywriter
Dennis Mcvey, Art Dir.
Vicki Sanders, Group Acct. Dir.

Someone at DDB likes those cats! I called Jill Greenberg to get her take on the ad-making process, but I
couldn’t get past her studio manager. She stopped listening to me when
I said blog, and got me off the phone as quickly as possible. So I don’t have a comment from her for ya right now. I’ll work on my credentials and get back to you.

Really, though, I am now seeing a lot of ads that look like this. And as demonstrated above, they seem to be hit-and-miss. I checked in with a few folks in the industry to get their take.

First, Xanthe Hohalek, an art director at TBWAChiatDay Los Angeles:

Yes, I definitely see a trend with the use of animals. There
are very easy

to personify and they have that magic element with clients
that they’re

“cute” and there’s nothing you can poke holes in
conceptually- There’s

absolutely nothing controversial about a cat or a dog. They
just are. To me,

it puts a fresh spin on any concept that could work just as
well with

humans. We’ve all seen the anthem spot where people from
across the land

gather together to support a product/game/idea, etc. It’s
been used from

Dove to Playstation (“Mountain”). So what if you
had animals as the leads in

this anthem? That seems like a fresh take, but still conveys
the central

concept that all marketers love to hear, that all living
organisms LOVE

their (insert product here).


I also think the animals trend comes directly from the DIY
videos on

YouTube. In both the examples you show, there is an
amateurish quality in

the concepts themselves even though the final shots are lit
well and shot

well. But the idea itself seems like something your cousin
Danny might come

up with and shoot in his basement in Minnesota for his own

Because of the propagation of DIY image making, ads have
taken on more of an

accessible quality that is more inclusive than exclusive. We
are inviting

audience participation because we realize we depend on it
for numbers. When

spots or print ads go up and get blogged about immediately,
our clients are

very happy. So there is an almost universal intent out there
to get people

to pay attention, like and eventually blog about everything
we do. People

like animals. Thus people will like ads that feature


Quite frankly, it’s just another iteration of puppies
selling toilet paper.

Who doesn’t like a puppy?”

Yes, who doesn’t like a puppy!?

And I also ran these by Cindy Hicks, a senior art producer at The Martin Agency. Again, I asked her if she had seen a trend.

Yes, I have
noticed.  It so bugs me!  It is the world of the cute (in some
opinion) animal forwarded email (my mother in-law & countless pet people).
 I think there is a dumbing-down trend. I tend to think using animal &
cute kids in advertising is cheating a bit.”

Hey reader- what do YOU think about kittens? And advertising? And finally, kittens within advertising?

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by
There are 7 comments for this article
  1. some ad guy at 11:42 pm

    the flach concept may be better from DDB, but greenberg’s photos are infinitely better lit, punchier, and more compelling. it seems you’ve managed to conflate DDB with the photographers in your comments above. in general, i’d say they are the two leading commercial animal photographers in quality in the world.

  2. Rachel Hulin at 12:15 am

    o yeah, some ad guy? but the flach kittens are doing KUNG FU! and wearing sunglasses! the other campaign seems like a one-note, even if it’s a strong one-note. no? but i agree, both flach and greenberg kick ass.

  3. robert at 12:14 pm

    “The concept was presented to Tim by DDB London. Basically the idea was to replicate a “catfight” (get it?); presumably, the cats are fighing over the clothes.” Do you maybe think it is at all possible, perhaps, that the actual [unspoken] concept was to replicate a viral email picture that did the rounds pretty solidly in about 2001, after the release of the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” ?? As I remember it was called “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Kitten” – this is the largest example I can find online. http://www.pheromoneoil.com/tiger.jpg But of course, if the DDB Guys were lifting their ideas directly from there, they would admit it, right ? So **shureley** it must be **pure coincidence** that picture 3 is so similarly posed ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *