Cravendale "Cats With Thumbs" by Wieden & Kennedy London (2011)
More even than its dairy cousin butter, milk is a consumer staple that has long defied branding. Milk, most consumers feel, is just milk. That was the challenge facing Danish dairy cooperative Arla Foods with the UK launch of Cravendale, a premium-priced branded milk, filtered to remove bacteria so it lasts longer and tastes better. Early marketing campaigns (by DDB) featured sinister dairy herds following buyers of Cravendale milk home because "the cows want it back". But they didn't achieve the breakthrough Arla wanted. In 2006, the account moved to Wieden & Kennedy's London office, which was already working wonders for Arla's lead UK brand, Lurpak butter.
W&K's first creative concept was adorably offbeat: a series of bizarre animations featuring little plastic toys of a cow, a pirate and a cyclist. The ads were a big hit with the public, prompting a sharp rise in Cravendale's sales. By 2011, though, Arla were looking for a new approach.
"Cow & Pirate had its ardent fans," says Chris Groom, then joint creative director at W&K London with Sam Heath. "The animation style was pretty unique and the tone was quirky but it wasn't quite growing the brand in the ways Arla needed. The problem in the milk aisle is that there really isn't much brand loyalty. Consumers generally just grabbed the coloured lid they wanted and didn't pay a whole lot of attention to what they were buying.
"So Cravendale briefed us to create a new campaign that would jolt the category and really make the milk matter. Kissing goodbye to Cow & Pirate would piss off some diehard fans but we knew we had to do something broader without losing some of the unique tone the brand has. The clients were also brave enough to walk away from an already popular campaign.
"The genesis of the new campaign came when Hollie Sayers and Freddie Powell, the creative team on the project, came to Sam and me with the thought of using polydactyl cats as a device to show that cats were evolving and therefore our precious milk was under threat. That was the catalyst for everything that followed. Taking such a daft threat seriously gave us this interesting voice for the brand. And then we started to craft the visual approach, thinking about how we could build this arc of ridiculous conspiracy.
"It was shot in a couple of days with Ulf Johannson directing. The biggest challenge was obviously trying to shoot with real cats." In some cases - for example the shot of the cat reaching up to open the kitchen door - the action was enhanced by a puppeteer wearing a giant furry arm. "The final piece of the jigsaw was finding the right VO artist," says Groom. "We tried a bunch of different voices, from actors to stand up talent, but no one we tried seemed to have the right tone. I suddenly remembered Tim Curry as Darkness in the movie 'Legend'. I didn't ever think he'd answer us from LA but he did. Thank God, because he added an extra 50% to the whole film.
"Just before we launched the commercial we dropped a seemingly user generated YouTube video called Jimmy Cat which featured a cat with a thumb which went viral. It was the perfect way to get the polydactyl story out there in popular culture before the ad dropped.
"I've been lucky to not have much work put through testing through the years. This was one of the few things that has gone through that process. Thankfully it sailed through. I remember going to the meeting with the clients to be given the test results from Millward Brown and they said they hadn’t seen anything like it. The engagement results were through the roof."
Those results were echoed in the rapturous reaction to the ad from the British public. In an end-of-the-year TV special by commercial broadcaster ITV, a panel of 8,000 viewers voted Cats With Thumbs Ad of the Year. It was also commended throughout the industry, making most trade papers' Top Ten, and earning a Bronze Lion at Cannes. Jog on, kitties...