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Cats Allowed, but No Dogs

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May 30, 2004

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A cafe exclusively for cats and their owners opened on Fifth Avenue in new York recently offering cats - and the humans who think they own them - food, toys, games and Meow Mix merchandise for sale in a gift shop.

The Meow Mix Company, the maker of dry cat food, opened the temporary Meow Mix Cafe in Midtown Manhattan to promote the company's first foray into the wet category of the cat-food market.

The menu is centred on the new wet food, which comes in seven flavours and the snacks for the owners (beef, chicken and seafood dishes) correspond to the wet food flavours.

Plans call for the store to be initially open for a week, closing on August 21, and based on how it fares, the company may reopen it again at another site in New York, open similar stores in other cities or create a "mobile cafe" that would tour the country.

The Meow Mix Cafe is emblematic of a major trend that is remaking the way marketers peddle products to consumers: They seek to bring their brands to life in tangible ways, mostly through showplace stores that they, rather than retailers, operate.

"It's a lot harder to get your message across, so the more impactful you can make the consumer's experience interacting with the brand, the better," said Paula Balzer, a partner at Mktg Partners in New York, which specializes in what is called experiential marketing.

"We like to call it active communication," Ms. Balzer said, "as opposed to passive communication" through traditional marketing methods like television commercials and print advertisements.

"Great branding is great storytelling, and the question becomes how can you create a story that's more compelling than your competitor's," said Brian Collins, executive creative director of the Brand Integration Group of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York, part of the WPP Group. In being open for a limited time, the Meow Mix store is indicative of another trend, known as pop-up retail, in which brands are showcased for short periods in places with high visibility to maximize the promotional pizzazz. Such stores have recently popped up from Berlin to Boston, waving the flag for brands from J. C. Penney to Comme des Garçons.

"Advertising traditionally works in the margins, between the television shows you like to watch, the articles you read, the buildings you go into," Mr. Collins said. "With stores, you're creating experiences that people who love brands, who want to bring them into their lives, can actively seek out in ways that give the brands depth, sense, sight, smell, dimension."

Pop-up retail - and brand stores, for that matter - can sound like gimmicks or stunts, but that can be ameliorated "if done in a tongue-in-cheek, appealing way that's not taken too seriously," said Matthew Glass, president of the event marketing and promotional agency for the Meow Mix Company, Grand Central Marketing in New York.

Besides, he added, "in talking to this audience, cat people, you have to go pretty far to seem silly to them."

www.meowmix.com.

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About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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