The Internet

Published on May 21st, 2013

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Truth in Cat-vertising

Cats can seem like either adorable fuzz balls or sociopathic allergen creators, depending on whether you’re a cat person. But cute or creepy, cats are definitely great salesmen. Grumpy Cat rode her feline fame to an endorsement deal with Friskies. Skittles, Pepsi, EDS, and Wal-Mart have had their cat-centric advertisements go viral. And even in the pre-web era, cats were used to sell everything from cars to cigarettes. We live in a world of cat-vertising.

But why cats?

The obvious answer is that cats are popular, particularly on the Internet. This YouTube video, simply entitled “Funny Cats,” has over 76 million views:

There are so many cat videos on the web that when Google set a neural network of computers – that is, a group of computers pretending to be a human brain — loose on YouTube last year to see what the brain simulation would teach itself, the computers came back able to recognize cats.

Marketers love to (ahem) copycat popular trends — check out the number of companies that produced Harlem Shake videos. So, if cats are proving popular on social media, felines are going to be used to sell everything from cat food to milk to whatever this is. People love cats, marketers know people love cats, and so cats become salescats.

But the popularity of cats predates even the Internet, as does their use in advertising. Children of the ‘90s will recall the famous Meow Mix song:

Cats, with their large eyes and small noses, may remind us of human infants – Internet celebrities in their own right – and so our fascination with kitty may be rooted in our biology.

But however cute cats are, consumers should be as wary of cat ads as they would any quick-talking, slick salesman. Take for instance a 2011 legal dispute between litter makers Arm & Hammer and Clorox. Clorox ran a series of ads depicting cats choosing to (take your best guess) use Clorox’s kitty litter Fresh Step over Arm & Hammer’s Super Scoop. Arm & Hammer claimed false advertising and sued, arguing, among other things, that “cats don’t talk.” New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered the litter ads be pulled while the suit was ongoing, but Arm & Hammer dropped the case after Clorox agreed to pull the ads permanently.

So, before you dig into your purrrrse to pay for a product pitched by a cat, think about whether you can really trust our feline friends. We think Grumpy Cat knows the answer.

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When a video (or song, or photo, etc.) “goes viral,” it becomes very popular very quickly. It gets shared from one person to their group of friends, from each of those friends to even more people, and so on, just like a virus.

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