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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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!
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?
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.