One of the most inventive TV commercials in a long time is the “Feed your senses” spot for Friskies cat food. At the opening of a can of Friskies, a cat steps through a silver hole that represents the can and enters a pleasantly surrealistic animated world in which turkeys spin around and salute it. The cat then glides across a sea of wheat in a boat shaped like a fish. Jumping off the boat, the cat climbs steps in a magical and gravity-less world of dancing cows, turkeys and other animals. Finally, the cat jumps through another silver hole, returns to the kitchen and pounces on a bowl of Friskies wet, which must be an upscale version of cat food. A few special effects produce the big ending: a psychedelic globe that transforms into a can of Friskies.
The highly detailed scene is rendered in a gorgeous animation of soft and friendly psychedelic colors reminiscent of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The cat remains real as it saunters through a dreamy world of edible delights.
The background music is also from the late 60’s-early 70’s and again it’s light and friendly psychedelia—recalling the Beatles, the Cowsills, Strawberry Alarm Clock or the “Crimson and Clover” phase of Tommy James and the Shondells. The voices are high-pitched and chipper, like those in the theme song for the TV show “Cheers,” which was an 80’s imitation of late 60’s psychedelic pop. Here are the lyrics:
“What if one little pop could open a world of wonder
So sensory, so satisfying
The discovery never seems to stop
A journey to delicious and beyond
Exciting the cat day and night
With endless enchantment
It’s the magic Friskies makes happen
Every day in so many ways
Friskies, feed the senses”
The ad celebrates lifestyle over sustenance. “Friskies, feed the senses” turns dining into a joyous adventure, an entertainment experience similar to when humans eat unfamiliar but delicious cuisine at a fine restaurant in an exotic foreign land. The entertainment is not just sensual, but also intellectual and spiritual, as conveyed in phrases such as “world of wonder,” “discovery never seems to stop” and “endless enchantment.” The senses become a gateway to the soul. In fact, the tagline, “Feed the senses” reminds me of the popular late 60’s expression, “Feed your head,” which is a line from “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, an anthem to taking drugs if ever I heard one. “Feed your head” is shorthand for transcending the tediousness and trouble of the everyday to enter a special, higher, more spiritual plane, of course guided by that with which you feed your head.
Except it’s for cats, and that’s what makes the spot so weird and yet so reflective of the zeitgeist.
It’s a classic advertising strategy to attach values to products, especially upscale products, and then to sell the value, not the product. In this case the value is an undefined magical spirituality to which the cat food supposedly connects the cat. Except no one could possibly believe that a cat can have an imaginative fantasy life as detailed as the one depicted in the spot. Humans can, though, and in a sense, the advertiser wants the pet owner to project his or her own aspirations onto the pet (just as many people currently do with their children).
What I find most interesting is that Friskies selected the value system it did: let’s not make the cat strong or give it a long life, but let’s tend to its nonreligious spiritual life. I know someone did consumer research. But did the research show that this psychedelic approach would work because of general current cultural trends or because of some characteristics of cat owners?
In either case, I predict the ad and campaign will be very successful, and for one reason only: the song is an enchanting ditty. After watching the spot a few times online, I couldn’t get the tune out of my head, which reminds me of hearing people through the years sitting at their desks, reading or working, quietly humming such classics as “pop, pop, fizz, fizz,” “it’s the real thing” and “it’s the Pepsi generation.”