As I've noted before, my main problem with cats is that they have targeted me for brutal death by allergy. Whenever I find myself within mewling distance of any such being or in a tabby-colonized residence whose owner isn't familiar with the modern contrivance of a "vacuum," I develop cat lung, the primary symptoms of which are constricted breathing passages and the asthmatic wheeze of a lifelong coal miner. Then I pass out. Every December, I send the local paramedics a holiday card.
Since I've never mistreated a cat, cast aspersions on the oafish character of certain breeds or otherwise fueled this feline vendetta, I feel justified in regarding cats as I might a human being who, for no good reason, persists in bludgeoning me with a shovel. Thus I've publicly come out against all things cat-related, including but not limited to housecats, feral cats, Sno-cats, caterpillars, catamarans, Cat Deeley, T.S. Eliot and Blofeld. I do not wish cats any particular harm, but if it boils down to a them-or-me confrontation? Cutey-wutey Mr. Squiggles will find himself staring at the inside of a furnace grate. That is a promise.
Which is why I'm so surprised by how much I enjoy "The Great Cat Debate," a series of videos curated by the litter-box magnates at Fresh Step. Unlike every other campaign in the history of catstuff marketing, it acknowledges the possibility that maybe, just maybe, cats are not as universally beloved as Nelson Mandela or Meryl Streep. Throw in an unexpected discovery angle -- the comics who enter pro-/anti-cat testimony into the record, especially Christina Pazsitzky and Dan Cummins, are uniformly smart and wry, and richly deserving of a broader audience -- and you've got one of the more unlikely viral-video successes in some time.
The clips work, at least for this anti-cat activist, because they strike a different note than the campaigns that preceded them. It'd have been easy for a non-edgy brand like Fresh Step to fall back on the rage-inducing puns that serve as the Rosetta stone of cat humor ("Why are cats such good singers? Because they're MEW-sical!!!!!"). Instead, Fresh Step freed the featured comics to riff on some of the less heralded benefits of cat companionship ("there's nothing better than having your cat snub your 28-year-old new mom") as well as on the not-entirely-remote possibility that cats are sociopaths.
I wonder, though, if the campaign's trace of a wisp of a suggestion that cats are anything other than God's most miraculous critter might not go over well with the target audience. I'm wading into the dark cesspool of stereotype here, but cat lovers aren't exactly known for their ability to laugh at themselves. Want proof? Wander into the Cat World forums and suggest a link between cat ownership and, say, loneliness or early-onset lupus or excessive Dorito consumption. Though the "Great Cat Debate" comics don't say anything remotely offensive – the spot’s pro-cat messaging outweighs its vaguely anti-cat messaging by a 200-to-1 ratio -- some would argue that, for a product and brand of this kind, even the barest hint of disparagement is too much.
Not me, though. I like everything about "The Great Cat Debate," even as its implicit insinuation that cats are cute, huggable and overall pretty darn OK chills me to the core of my being. Kudos to Fresh Step for trying something new; it'll be interesting to see whether the approach ultimately pays off.