Want to Write Better PPC Ads? Try Cat Food For Inspiration

It was way past quitting time, and though I still was on deadline for a new flight of text and display ads, my creative muse had quit hours earlier and gone home or wherever it is that muses go when they desert you.

The phone rang. It was my wife calling to ask me to pick up some bread and milk on the way home and “Oh, can you also please get some dry cat food for Mozart?” No problem.

Cat Dreams Do Come True!

Finding the right milk was easy enough. Our store carries only one brand and a half-gallon of 1% lasts us about a week. Done. Finding the right loaf of bread took a bit longer – so many more brands to choose from – but since we prefer 12-grain, that narrowed the choice to just one. Done and done.

A quick swing by the cat food aisle to fetch a bag of dry cat food, and I’d be on my way.

Dizzying Array of Dry Cat Foods Clamoring for My Attention


I turned the corner and froze in my tracks. The cat food aisle was as crowded as a search results page with PPC ads for digital cameras in December. I couldn’t remember which brand we usually get and there was a dizzying array of colorful bags, boxes and brands of dry cat food all clamoring to get my attention.

They’re kidding, right? Dry cat food is just dry cat food, isn’t it?

Oh, I get it. I know what these guys are up to. This is just marketing BS and I am not going to fall for any of their slick marketing appeals. I’ve just spent the last 12 hours trying to develop ads for my clients to do the same thing.

Clearly, the cat food’s fat-cat ad agencies have simply mapped the personas for their typical cat owners and adapted the outside packaging to push our buttons to get us to buy their brands. But it’s the same stuff in every bag anyway, isnt’ it? You can’t convince me otherwise and I am not going to open the bags and taste what’s in them. (Note to self: do not shop on an empty stomach.)

Well, whatever. I still needed to buy dry cat food, so I looked for the simplest, plainest, cheapest looking bag on the shelves and avoid falling victim to fancy Madison Avenue advertising and marketing tricks.

This one lone bag stood out like a sore thumb:

This is Cat Food. No more, no less.

Perfect. That’s what I want, cat food. Nothing more, nothing less. No frills, no paying for some brand premium when everything is the same anyway. I suppose if this bag were translated into a PPC Ad, it would be equally as bland:

cat Food

100% Complete & Balanced Nutrition

For the Maintenance of Adult Cats!


Just as I was reaching to grab that bag and put it in my cart, another set of boxes caught my eye:

Chillaxin' with Grillers

I burst out laughing. Are you kidding me? Grillers’ Blend? Who the heck are they targeting with this messaging? Cats who like chillaxin’ on a camping trip near some mountains that look a lot like Mount Rushmore, except that the carved figures are cattle, chicken and turkeys?

Well of course they are not targeting the cats. They’re targeting nature lovers who own cats who project their belief systems onto their pets.

Oh, this is rich. This is really, really funny. I stopped shopping for a few minutes and started playing a little guessing game with myself right then and there in cat food aisle. I started to take a much closer look at all the other brands on the shelf, examined all their imagery and copy, and tried to guess who they were targeting.

The middle box in this trio from Friskies is called Indoor Delights. The tag line at the bottom of the bag is “Explore the Great Indoors.”

Okay, let me take a guess at that target audience. Apartment-dwelling women in urban areas who own cat(s) but feel a tinge of guilt about leaving their cat(s) in a boring apartment all day long. Hey, relax, Ms. Apartment Cat Lady. It’s not boring at all. Your apartment is actually the “Great Indoors” and your cat loves to go exploring all day long! And don’t worry about that beautiful Haitian cotton couch or the merino wool throw shaped as a waterfall your cat is about to explore. I am sure they won’t be ripped to shreds by the time you get home.

The third bag in the Friskies trio, Surfin’ & Turfin’ is one of my personal favorites in the entire cat food aisle. The images are of a warm summer ocean scene. A sailboat is on horizon with a sky full of fluffy clouds. A happy cat is grabbing some rays on the dunes and playfully poking at some imaginary plaything. Hint. Hint. That’s your cat and he’s playing with you, Mr./Ms. Cat Owner.

The tag line says it all. “Cat Dreams Do Come True.”

Nothing in the world will make your cat happier than to be playing with you here at the beach as the tag line clearly implies. Nothing, that is, except this box of dry cat food. Who is the target audience here? OMG. It must be huge! It consists of every man or woman, young or old, who has ever summered at the beach and would love to be there right now. Very, very clever.

The next bags down are for The Goodlife Recipe brand.

We all want our kitties to have nine great lives.


These are clearly not just meat and animal parts food thrown into a grinder, baked, shaped into dry cat food bits and bagged. This special dry cat food comes from a recipe! Hero shots include cats who are clearly under the thought-control of their masters, dreaming of perfectly-sized portions of chopped meat and vegetables, representing the healthy eating food triangle.

My guess is that the target audience for this brand is young, active men and women. Runners, perhaps, or at least people who work out regularly, and watch what they eat. The target audience may also contain clairvoyants, as evidenced by thought control they have over their cats.

Over to the right of The Goodlife Recipe bags, I notice the distinctive yellow bag of the famous Meow Mix. The tagline for this bag “New Look. Same Great Taste.” (Another note to self: Ditto previous note). I am guessing that the Meow Mix folks are appealing to folks who already know and love their brand, and blue collar workers who watch a lot of TV and tend to be set in their ways, trusting brands they are familiar with (because they seen the commercial 1 million times!).

Moving down the aisle we come to the high rent district – Fancy Feasts!

May I suggest a 96 Chataneuf-du-Pape to go with that?

The Fancy Feasts options – Filet Mignon and Ocean Fish with Accents of Garden Greens – sounded very appetizing to me, personally. (Stomach growling. Must get home for dinner before someone catches me sampling again.) I am not so sure our cat, Mozart, cares a lick about accents of anything, though. I’ve seen him devour birds and field mouse tartare without a red wine reduction or special seasonings, so I am pretty sure this brand is not for us. I mean, him.

So who exactly are they targeting with Fancy Feasts? The uber-rich? Social climbers who aspire to dress and talk like Thurston Howell III and Lovey?

YouTube Preview Image

I don’t think so. Anyone who has ever actually eaten a Filet Mignon would probably not want to share it with their cat, so I am guessing that the target audience for this brand is probably lower income individuals who can’t afford the finer things in life, but are willing to splurge on the pets they love.

PPC Takeaways From The Cat Food Aisle

Okay, so after spending way too much time on the cat food aisle, laughing and making good fun of the crazy variety of options for dry cat food while pretending to be above the influence of silly marketing messages, I settled on something organic and wholesome-sounding, because, as those of you who know me will attest, I am all for saving the planet. I feel good about the earth-toned bag of dry cat food and have no idea what I paid for it. The price never entered my mind, actually.

The lesson I took away from my cat food aisle exploration is that it is much easier and much more fun to write text ads and create display ads when you actually stop to think about the hopes and dreams, the aspirations, and in most desires of your target audiences no matter what you are selling, rather than trying to write some keyword-themed ad that includes a lame-o, free whitepaper download.

So, the next time you experience a creative writing block and you find yourself writing the same 71 character ad over and over and over again, hoping it will magically fit into 70 characters, take a break, walk down to your local grocery store and walk up and down the aisles. If you think cat food is funny, try the toilet paper section.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • tomfurton

    Nice article. I’m neck-deep in a spreadsheet full of text ads right now thinking of similar matters.

    And I’ve definitely taken note of the television ads which support that Friskies packaging and messaging. From my perspective, it’s a great campaign because it starts with the idea that your cat has an interior life. Hopes, dreams, an imagination — all ludicrous to someone who doesn’t own or care about cats, but then those people don’t matter when you’re selling cat food, do they? I like the empathy involved, and the commitment to the idea. It’s only ridiculous if you’re not in the target audience.

  • http://www.findmefaster.com Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, Tom,

    I agree 100% with what you are saying. I may have had it backwards – cats may be controlling our thoughts to get them what they want. If you notice your cats playing with the remote, and turning up the volume during food commercials, please let me know – I’ll nominate you both for a Nobel prize. I know my cat has no problem communicating what and when he wants something from my wife or I.

    Good luck with your ads. Hope you sell tons of what ever it is you sell!

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Matt, we’ve broken down and gone for Fancy Feast — the wet food, no less — for our 18 year old cat. It wasn’t the marketing message that sold us on it, the old girl basically went on a starvation diet, and we found this was the only brand of wet food she’d consistently eat. 17.5 years of purina dry cat food, and suddenly she’s the queen ordering us to get her more Fancy Feast and to serve it in a crystal goblet while we’re at it.

    Great article, by the way!

  • http://www.findmefaster.com Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, George. Long live the Queen!

  • haveronjones

    This article made me laugh out loud, Matt.

    It’s long been said that while dogs have owners, cats have staff – and nowhere is this more apparent than in the efforts of humans to satisfy the demands of their feline employers!

  • https://www.spectrumchemical.com D.R.

    Fantastic Job Matt! It always amazes me how we often forget to take the time and just look around us to remind us of the things we already know.

  • http://www.findmefaster.com Matt Van Wagner

    So true, D.R.! That’s one of the lessons about our addiction to smartphones. The price we pay for staying connected online 24/7 means we become a bit disconnected from the richness and fun that is all around us in the real world.

    Thanks for your comment, Ron! I hadn’t heard that line before, but it is so true, and I’ll think of you everytime I repeat it!

  • A.H.

    Good stuff, Matt!

    Thankfully PPC clickers don’t sit and stare at the ads for an hour. We simply show them their key phrase and a little lie. ;)

  • rsmith

    As a matter of fact Matt, they do control our throughts via their litter, thanks to their little friend and copilot toxoplasmic gondii, an infection of which in humans is not only quite common, but is bad for pregnant women which is why babydaddies-to-be the world over find themselves the exclusive litter box cleaners of their households, on doctors orders.

    Back to the cat-based mind control — toxoplasmosis affects mice, making them docile and subservient to their predators and therefore much easier to kill. In the case of humans, we find ourselves bending to the will of these bossy, aloof and often high-maintenance little messmakers who IMHO bring almost nothing to the table except 1. looking cute when they aren’t working on a hairball, and 2. snapping you out of the zone with a pushy insistence for attention whenever you’re in it.

    In my case, they’ve got me convinced I’m their building’s doorman, who are obviously well paid to promptly let them in or out several times an hour because it’s our job, and they thank you kindly to keep your complaints about your doorman job to yourself, because you’re one dish of milk away from being replaced, and don’t you forget it bub!

  • http://www.findmefaster.com Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, Ryan and AH. You are two savvy cats!

    Ryan I nearly bust a gut when I read your comment. You are 100% Right on!

  • http://quift.wordpress.com Pierre-Emil

    if only the marketing was the only difference…. But as with most advertising all the important stuff is hidden behind fluff.

    You often mention that most cat food is only bits and pieces of meat etc dried and baked into pellets. However most store bought catfood is 80% corn. The basic stuff you will find in those aisles normally has about 4% animal content. observe “animal content”. So no meat at all.

    The “good stuff”, which I can only find in an actual pet store contains about 50-70% “animal content”, and normally about 10% “meat”. And then there are some differences depending on the sort of cat you have (age mostly, younger cats need more calories, indoor cats less).

    The important take-away is that cats cannot gain any nutrition from corn. So they will overeat and over-poop. With the god stuff they eat half as much. So to choose, you would have to read the content, and not trust the advertising. Every advertiser should know better than to trust the packaging, but that does not make everythig equal…


  • http://www.findmefaster.com Matt Van Wagner

    Wow! Thank you, Pierre-Emil!

    This is great to know! I really appreciate your letting all our readers know these important distinctions. Mozart, thanks you, too. Because we’ll be sure to get him some more 100% meat from the deli counter.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide