AT&T and Friskies Ads Evoke March Madness

I am proudly, fiercely pro-adorableness and -adorability. I am blessed with the courage of my convictions in this matter, just as I am in my moral and political stances vis-à-vis ice cream (in favor), playgrounds (ditto) and genocide (against). Was it John F. Kennedy or John C. Mellencamp who wrote, "You've got to stand for somethin', or you're gonna fall for anything"? That's soooo me.

But I cannot abide an overabundance of adorable mirthful cuteness trespassing on my hard-macho turf, as it did during the past weekend's NCAA hoops orgy. I allude specifically to a pair of ads, which hyped Friskies' "You vs. Cat" and AT&T's "Brackets By Six Year Olds", that ran roughly 8,200 times during the tournament's first two rounds. By Sunday night, each re-airing prompted me to pledge that I would never ever patronize the companies responsible for the ads, unless their new product is really neat.

This is why the online folks should box the ears of the media people who overbought the NCAA broadcasts, because both campaigns sing when they're not force-fed to viewers. I understand that the TV saturation is designed to generate awareness, as Joe T. Browserfella isn't likely to happen upon Friskies.com or AT&T.com during his daily web content walkabout. But the cluster-bombing approach nearly soured me on both campaigns before I bothered to glance their way on the web. So heck to Betsy, take it easy on the repetition.

Now that we've dispensed with the Larry-thinks-there-are-too-many-commercials-and-he-isn't- too-fond-of-that-Bieber-kid-either part of today's program, let me applaud Friskies and "You vs. Cat" for accomplishing the impossible: Making cat videos palatable to a nonbeliever. I have a big problem with felines, in that even minimal exposure to them makes my lungs clamp shut. I have thus spent few waking moments availing myself of clips in which cuddly-wuddly cats act like people and perform great feats of wonder with balled yarn.

That's why I dig "You vs. Cat": With its mock-grandiose tone, it simultaneously celebrates and mocks the genre (and yes, I just referred to cat videos as a "genre"). The clips hype Friskies' iPad apps, the most recent of which is billed as "the first (we think) dual-species game for iPad." They're pretty simple, with most of the footage devoted to cats pawing away at iPads while engaged in, uh, competitive gameplay. The beauty is in what videos of this ilk will inevitably spawn: hundreds of other videos in which cats paw away at iPads while engaged in, uh, competitive gameplay, many of them tagged with the Friskies brand. This bit will go forth and multiply without Friskies lifting another finger. That's genius.

Slightly more effort was put into "Brackets By Six Year Olds," which places a faux-serious anchor in a classroom with a bunch of young pundits and documents their cuter-than-pandas-and-ponies-combined reaction to questions about the NCAA tournament. The first clip does a fine job of setting up the series, with the anchor solemnly intoning about how "someone's six- year-old nephew [always] wins your pool because he likes the color blue… that's why this year, we're going straight to the source." Then the kids take care of the rest.

One responds to a question about whether there will be a Cinderella team with "I don't think so, no, because we don't own any glass slippers." Another deconstructs the Syracuse Orange by noting, "they're just real men wearing orange clothes." In the series' most inspired moment - at least to anyone familiar with the history of the UNLV basketball team - a third says he likes the team and program "because they share my values." All together now: Awwwwww! You can't go wrong with cute, funny kids.

Yeah, the whole you-couldn't-make-these-answers-up aspect is cloying and yeah, the bit gets old after a few views. But AT&T deserves props for taking a single simple notion and spinning it into something that simultaneously elicits G-rated giggles and stealthily brands its products. To wit: During the clips, the kids play around with an AT&T tablety phone thing and, in doing so, render it as natural a classroom accessory as the crayons and books strewn about the table. Whether or not this was the campaign's intent, it succeeds on that secondary level as well. I admire the sneakiness.

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