The psychedelic new Friskies ad.

Advertising deconstructed.
March 29 2010 2:08 PM

Psychedelic Cat Food

Why is the new Friskies ad so trippy?

The Spot: A can of Friskies cat food pops open, unleashing colorful beams of light. We hear a woman's voice singing: "One little pop can open a world of wonder." The swirling beams of light coalesce into a magical portal, through which a happy-looking cat leaps. On the other side are animated turkeys and cows, and a sailing ship that looks like a giant fish. "A journey to delicious and beyond," sings the woman. The cat jumps back through the portal into a kitchen in the real world, where it chows down on a bowl of wet cat food. "Friskies, Feed the Senses," reads the tagline. (Click here to watch the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Faaaar ouuuut, Friskies. This is for sure the grooviest cat food ad the world has ever seen. A 3-D version—offering multidimensional freakitude—has been running in movie theaters prior to showings of Alice in Wonderland. There's even a psychedelic remix of the spot on YouTube.

Dancing turkeys. Levitating windmills. Crustaceans unfurling a red carpet. Did someone at Friskies smoke an eighth of catnip? Is this an effort to reach a psychonautic subset of pet owners?

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I asked Friskies marketing director Susan Schlueter to explain. What followed was a fascinating glimpse into the world of feline feeding rituals. (Perhaps you knew this stuff already. As I lack a cat, or any experience tending cats, it was new to me.) Apparently, dry food is left out all day for cats to nosh on. Kitty will take a few desultory nibbles, but then go back to chasing dust motes or clawing at upholstery—leaving the remainder of the desiccated food in the bowl for later. By contrast, wet food is a once- or maybe twice-a-day treat. When that can of wet food peels open, kitty hops up onto the countertop and eagerly slurps until she reaches the final drop of yummy slop.

"Feeding wet," as Schlueter calls it, can for some owners be a highly ritualized and intimate pet interaction. The pop of the can primes kitty for excitement. The scents that escape set feline nostrils aflutter. This is a time for cats and owners to bond over a heap of moist, processed meat. And, according to Schlueter, many owners like to imagine what their cats are feeling and thinking during these moments of culinary ecstasy. This trippy ad, which is for wet food, is meant to capture the altered consciousness of the cat—the sensually heightened bliss it derives from chewing on a pile of damp Friskies.

Of course, not all cat owners are quite so jazzed about spooning out cat food and watching their pets munch on it. Friskies did some proprietary consumer research and found a specific segment of cat fanciers they wanted to home in on. Schlueter says the target is "owners who are very involved with their cats, and have a deep relationship with their cats. These are owners who love to get inside and experience the magical world their cats experience." Thus the lyrics of the ad's jingle promise that Friskies will help you "excit[e] your cat, day and night, with endless enchantment." (At the risk of forcing some cat owners to contemplate uncomfortable notions, I will note that this pitch is not unlike that of spam e-mails guaranteeing the ability to "satisfy your partner like never before.")

You might assume that these extreme cat enthusiasts all fit into the "crazy cat lady" mold. But, in fact, Schlueter claims that what links Friskies' target customers is attitudinal, not demographic. These ads are meant to appeal to cat owners male and female, young and old, hitched and single. Why all these people enjoy the thought of their pets dropping acid, I can't quite say. But I wish them well. May all their feedings be wet, and may all their cats trip out in a heavy, heavy way, man.

Grade: B. It's tough for me to judge the efficacy of this ad since I've never fed, much less owned, a cat. The spot seems thoughtfully crafted, though, and the animation looks sharp. It certainly manages to stand out from other pet-food ads on TV. Were I a hep, bohemian cat peering at this ad from atop my owner's entertainment console, I imagine I'd be curious to taste the grub those kooky hippies at Friskies are cooking up.

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