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INSIGHT without an insight

The best brief I ever got when working in advertising was on Felix catfood. I was at BMP and the client was Quaker.

At the time the ‘wet’ catfood market was dominated by Whiskas with 50% share and it had been like that for years. Felix had reached 6.5% but its position was weak.

So a relaunch was planned including, for the first time, advertising. The product had been reformulated with meatier chunks and new flavours. I remember Pete Farrand, the client, saying there was something about the jelly around the chunks that cats seemed to particularly enjoy.

On top of that, the pack had been redesigned. It was now dominated by a black and white cat, Felix, looking as if he was appearing round a door. There was also a paw print on the top of the can, around which was written “Tasted and Approved”.

Then Pete told us the budget - £250,000. Whiskas at the time was spending £10 million. This was to be David vs. Goliath.

Certain things were obvious. We had to make Felix a credible brand. We needed to give non-users some kind of reason to try it and users a reason to buy it more often.

We also knew that cats can be fussy and fickle when it comes to food. That’s why all the major brands tried to reassure owners that their cats would want to eat their brand. “In tests, 8 out of 10 owners who expressed a preference...”

We did our own research and the most important learning was that you couldn’t stop cat owners from talking about their cats. What they loved about them was their individual personalities, particularly if they were a bit cheeky and mischievous.

A lot of these cats led pretty independent lives too. They were in and out of neighbours’ houses. They got fed elsewhere. They came home when they liked. You never knew for certain if they were going to come back. Basically, teenagers.

We started to sense an opportunity. It seemed like Felix already had this kind of personality. What if we created a campaign that targeted people who saw their cats in this way and spoke to them in their kind of language?

So I wrote a brief based on the idea that ‘if your cat is like Felix the cat, then he or she will like Felix catfood’.

First stop with this was Kevin Brown in Media (he called us ‘The Brown Boys’). We knew we couldn’t afford TV. So Kevin thought: “Black and white cat, what about black and white press?”

It sounded good. No other catfood brand advertised there. We could focus on a couple of titles and look big in a small world. We could also afford a week-in, week-out presence so we’d catch cat owners whenever they might be open to switching.

Then we got lucky. The creative team put on the brief were Kaarl Hollis and Trevor Beattie. Kaarl was a good art director but also a great illustrator. And he was really, really good at drawing mischievous-looking cats.

Trevor took one look at the brief and wrote down: “Cats like Felix like Felix’. He and Kaarl then created dozens of funny, cheeky ads. Big ones, small ones, different shapes and sizes, that could pop up unexpectedly as you read your Daily Express or Daily Star. Just like Felix. Creative and media thinking in perfect harmony.

Anyway, it worked. Within two years, Felix was on the telly. It started using outdoor. There were big increases in penetration and loyalty. Six years later, Felix’s share had grown from 6.5% to 42%. The brand had overtaken Whiskas and was now No. 1. Some relaunch.

The thing is, at no time do I remember us arguing about penetration versus loyalty. We knew both mattered.

We talked about targeting but not segmentation, even though that was what we were doing. We were also doing it in the smartest way, by emotional need.

We didn’t explicitly talk about how the advertising was going to work - would it be persuasion or seduction or a bit of both? No one talked about the importance of being remembered because that was just assumed. What use is an ad if no one remembers it and who it’s for?

And I certainly never remember writing down anything resembling an insight. I think, as a group, we had a lot of insight. We just didn’t know what that insight was.

Years later, I was presenting my view on the Felix story to a prospective client and I wanted to say what the real insight had been. I looked at the IPA Effectiveness-winning paper written by Richard Butterworth and Les Binet. It was fantastic but nowhere in there could I find ‘The Insight’.

So I tried to think what it was, the question to the answer.

I went back through the clues. A cat called Felix. Cheeky and mischievous. Independent. Owners worrying if their cats would ever come back. Popping up unexpectedly. Cats liking the jelly. Paw print on the can.

Then I remembered the very first ad we presented in the very first presentation. It sold the whole campaign, no question. All it showed was a somewhat dishevelled Felix, one ear up, one ear down, sitting looking at you with an expression that simply said: “What?”. The headline was ‘Dirty Stop Out’.

Then a thought came to me: ‘The only catfood worth coming home for’.

Maybe that was it. People want the Security of knowing their stop-out cat will always return to them, like Felix does. But what if a rival tries to steal their heart? Better give them the food that cats like Felix like, before someone else does.

So there was an insight after all. I knew there had to be one.

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