PRODUCT PLACEMENT FOR PUSSIES

Okay, first forgive the title to this post. I was possessed by a puerile urge this morning. In any case, I think you will discover the pun in the next sentence. Marketing firm Grand Central Marketing has pulled off one of the a)smartest or b) most idiotic product placement deals so far. Let me explain.

In his collumn for Chief Marketer, Grand Central Marketing CEO Matthew Glass begins the story like this:

Marketing, in its new clothing, is accepted, even fashionable, when done right. Branded entertainment no longer blurs the line between content and advertising. It removes it.

Recently my company, Grand Central Marketing, took product placement one step further and developed an original entertainment property for our client Meow Mix. Rather than paying our way onto an established program, we created our own show, one that reflected the fun, whimsical nature of the Meow Mix brand.

The Meow Mix House was billed as the world’s first reality show starring cats. Ten homeless felines from shelters across the United States were flown to New York, where they lived together in a custom-built house in midtown Manhattan from June 13 to June 23. The “cat-testants” competed in a series of tongue-in-cheek challenges, including a climb-a-thon and a purring contest, as they vied for a job as “feline vice president of research and development” at Meow Mix. In reality all the cats were winners—after being eliminated from the competition (host Tom Shillue delivered the news by uttering the catchphrase, “You’re meotwa here!”), they were all adopted into permanent homes.

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The Meow Mix House included numerous interactive elements to engage consumers, whether they were onsite, online, or ultimately watching on TV. The house, situated in a storefront on Madison Avenue, was open to the public, allowing fans to visit the cats in person and vote for their favorite cats in special ballot boxes set up inside the store. The house averaged 1,000 visitors a day over the 10-day period it was open….

…The rules have changed when it comes to branded entertainment. Marketers are no longer restricted to traditional media or satisfied with a place in the background. By creating their own original content or using their brand Websites as de facto television channels, marketers are finding audiences and doing it on their own terms. Now that’s something to meow about!

So, taking an experiential coup like last year’s Meow Mix Cafe — a pop-up store for cats and their owners in Manhattan — and making it into a “reality show” for cats is progressive product placement? I don’t get it really. Instead of taking a great concept like the cafe and enlarging the reach for live consumer experiences, Grand Central Marketing decided to make a quasi TV show instead? What happened to no longer being restricted to traditional media? I mean, a TV show…for cats?

Granted, it might be better than watching Big Brother 7, but the original idea for Meow Mix has been tainted by the deeply ingrained need to “do mass” by marketers, no matter how unconventional their agencies claim to be. The Cafe was an experience. The show? Blah. Yawn. Next.

What do you think?

2 comments

  1. Max,
    I think the real issue here is the following line:
    “The house averaged 1,000 visitors a day over the 10-day period it was open…”
    So let me get this straight. It got 10,000 people to come in. 10,000 people could be hit with an interesting experience/intercept in 1 hour in Times Square. For a lot cheaper than what this set-up probably cost.
    We work out of New York and never heard that this happened, so it did not seem to get a huge amount of press either (the real reason they did it I am sure).
    So it seems that it is a very interesting idea, but in the end, you have to wonder where the payoff was.
    -Sam

  2. Max,
    As the CEO of Grand Central Marketing, the agency that produced both the Meow Mix Café and the Meow Mix House reality show, I’d like to address some of the statements made in your post and Sam Ewen’s subsequent comment. First off, thank you for your kind words about The Meow Mix Cafe in your book and on your blog,. In fact it was a success that brought the brand international recognition from the marketing community and made the company’s wet food pouches one of the most successful new product launches of the year. While we agree that the Café was a great experience for those customers who visited the cafe, I think you’re shortchanging the Meow Mix House experience. Thousands of people came to see the cats in person, with many returning day after day to visit their favorites. There was constantly a crowd in front of the storefront peering through the window and blocking pedestrian traffic on Madison Avenue—above and beyond the 10,000 consumers who came inside the house.
    But the House’s storefront set was only a small part of an integrated campaign that also involved TV programming and most importantly, an online component. Through the Internet we were able to spread the experience internationally and capture the fancy of catlovers worldwide. We received emails from people all over the world telling us how much they loved watching the cats on the live webcam s . One woman in the Canary Islands went so far as to start her own chatroom for people to discuss the cats. Many of the participating animal shelters started grassroots campaigns for people to vote for their hometown felines, and more than a quarter of a million consumers voted online for their favorite cats.
    With regard to Mr. Ewen’s comment that “We work out of New York and never heard that this happened, so it did not seem to get a huge amount of press either (the real reason they did it I am sure)”—I’m not sure where he gets his news but there were four stories about the house in the New York Post, four in the Daily News and one in the New York Times. The house was also featured on The Today Show, The Early Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, E! News, Inside Edition, Fox and Friends, The Insider, and Fox & Friends, just to name a few.

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