Wieden + Kennedy scoops ITV’s 2011 Ad of the Year

Thumbs up

It's a big thumbs up from W+K's Freddie Powell and Helen Foulder at the news that our Cravendale 'Cats with Thumbs' spot was voted number one best TV ad of 2011 by viewers of ITV, the UK's biggest commercial TV channel. ITV's top 20 ads of the year were featured on TV a couple of nights ago in a show called Ad of the Year. It has to be admitted that Freddie and Helen, who were interviewed for the show as representatives of the Cravendale team, do look slightly sheepish about being made to appear on prime time TV wearing giant furry cat gauntlets. But for the rest of us that moment above is TELLY GOLD!

Here's the extract from the show featuring the top of the poppermost Cravendale spot.

Some people find the Cravendale ad a bit scary, but I have to say I personally don't find the prospect of world domination by polydactyl cats nearly as unnerving as the luminous teeth of the man below. I couldn't pay any attention to what he was saying in the clip because I was distracted by his fluorescent chompers.

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Also in the top twenty ads of the year were two more Wieden + Kennedy spots. At number 13, from W+K Portland, Old Spice's 'The man your man could smell like'. Apparently, according to the celebrity lady interviewed below, this causes 'an actual physical reaction when you watch it'. Mind-boggling.

And at number 11, from W+K Amsterdam, Heineken's 'The entrance'. Fantastic suggestion from the actress interviewed that a follow-up ad should be set in Coronation Street's Rover's Return pub.

Well done to all involved in making these ads and big congrats to our clients. And many thanks for your votes, ITV viewers.

Cravendale ‘cats with thumbs’ makes Adweek’s top ten of 2011

Adweek magazine has named Wieden + Kennedy’s ‘Cats with thumbs’ commercial for Cravendale one of its ‘top ten of 2011’.

Adweek magazine has named Wieden + Kennedy’s ‘Cats with thumbs’ commercial for Cravendale one of its ‘top ten of 2011’.

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Adweek magazine has named our 'Cats with thumbs' commercial for Cravendale one of its 'top ten of 2011'. Here's what they say:

Why do cats stare when you're pouring milk? The answer seems obvious. They're cats. They love milk. But this irresistible spot by Wieden + Kennedy for British dairy Cravendale wondered if the cute little kitties might not have a more nefarious agenda. After a lifetime of waiting on their owner's generosity, perhaps they want to take matters into their own paws. Maybe they're ready to band together and raid your milk supply. They would need just one thing, and this spot humorously gives it to them—opposable thumbs. Suddenly, the polydactyl felines are seen picking up balls, filing their nails, flipping through books, and doing a little needlepoint. But they're just biding their time and honing their sinister plot. Sure enough, soon they're snapping their fingers, West Side Story style, and preparing to gang up on the selfish, cereal-eating human and steal his milk. Cats are always big in ads, but this spot chased off all rivals this year. And we may get a sequel. As one of the spot's feline stars wrote on Twitter this fall: "Know this: you have not heard the last from me."

Chuffed with this news, Bertrum Thumbcat plots the next stage of world domination:

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And here is the TV ad again, in all its 8th place glory.

neuroscience vs cats with thumbs

There seems to be a lot of talk in the trade press recently about 'neuromarketing'. And there was an interesting piece 'advertising is a poison' in The Guardian last week. George Monbiot makes some good points in the article. At W+K we don't tend to think of our work as a 'battering ram'  of 'pervasiveness and repetition'; the people behind the likes of Go Compare may well have a different point of view.

But is advertising the cause of a society that celebrates image, power and status, or is it a symptom of this society? People have aspired to these values since they were jealous of the neanderthal with a better cave. The societies where the state has tried to enforce the suppression of these aspirations – hello, Stalin's Russia, North Korea – have in the main been pretty miserable places. It isn't just advertising that makes humans want a bigger house and a new car.

Since the publication of Hidden Persuaders in the 1950s, academics have been suggesting that advertising has the power to manipulate the subconscious. But it's pretty rare that an agency team will have a conversation with clients about neurobiology, or how our message will be processed by the prefrontal cortex of our audience, or how we can conceal some sort of secret mind-control message in an ad. It's just not that scientific or simple. We wouldn't deny that advertising has the power to manipulate the unconscious mind. But pundits overestimate our ability to control or predict how we're doing it.

Meanwhile, it's ironic that Monbiot suggests advertising is to blame for low savings rates by UK families when at the bottom of the article there is an ad for… Barclays Investments.

In Marketing magazine this week, Dr AK Pradeep 'one of the world's leading neuromarketing experts' says, "One of my clients trying to sell milk experimented with various imagery – farms, grass, hay, barns farmers…The one that always wins out is cows. Somehow the source of a product is more evocative in the deep subconscious than anything else. This is something we've learned through neuromarketing."

So, what about cats with thumbs, as featured in our highly successful campaign for Cravendale milk then?


Our view: the difficulty with showing cows or talking about the other familiar benefits  listed above by Dr Pradeep is that it gives the audience immediate permission to ignore you because they assume you're telling them what they already know. But something dissonant and unexpected like a polydactyl cat slaps you across the face (not literally, we don't yet have the technology to make that possible) and makes you pay attention in a way you wouldn't have done otherwise for such a functional product. An 8% sales increase suggests that this approach has merits.

Of course, perhaps if we had done a campaign featuring cows with thumbs, we would have sold even more milk.

the hard sell: Cravendale

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The Guardian's 'Hard Sell' takes on our Cravendale campaign. I think they like it. But I'm not sure.

Traditionally, adverts are meant to make you want to buy the product they're advertising. They're supposed to be aspirational, or funny, or memorable, or just feature a long, drawn-out romance between a couple that couldn't have kept their love alive or overcome the bumps in the romance road without the help of a company that offers both telephone and internet services. But not since the 90s, when alcopop Metz introduced the dream-haunting Judderman (don't YouTube it before bed) has a TV advert made me feel so uncomfortable as the Cravendale Cats With Thumbs.

The 41 seconds of terror begin deceptively quietly, when the question is posed: "Why do cats always stare when you're pouring milk"? Apparently it's because they're plotting. They know it's only a matter of time until they grow thumbs (the crunchy squelchy sound of a sprouting cat thumb will haunt you at 4.35am, when you wake up sweating and shaking as your own moggy scratches at the door). Cravendale wants us to know that when cats have opposable digits, they'll be reading books (on WAR – SIGNIFICANT!!!), sewing, and forming 1960s West Side Story-style gangs, only with worse singing voices. Cats can already see things we can't; what makes you think forming an army to reclaim the world's milk isn't the next step? The irony, of course, is that adult cats are lactose intolerant and shouldn't drink milk. Which means that any act of war over dairy products is just spiteful. The ad closes with the futile words "Jog on, kitty." But it's no use. It's a stark warning of a worrying future when felines rule the planet and humans are left with the worst thing of all: soy milk.

how to milk a cat

Wieden + Kennedy's Theo Izzard-Brown was interviewed by marketing website Imperica in our Rib Room (above) about our new Cravendale 'Cats with Thumbs' campaign. Here's the story:

Fictional characters can build brands. Whether it's BT's Buzby in the Seventies or, more recently Aleksandr Orlov, they can touch an emotional "soft spot" and go on to achieve long-lasting recognition, way after the end of their campaign.

Such appreciation is both a blessing and a curse for agencies. While appreciation and recognition of the character is indicative of the campaign's impact, the character can also become bigger than the brand: enjoying success in terms of awareness, but with very little impact at the point of sale. These issues are brought into even sharper focus when digital comes into play, where characters can exist on YouTube and have their own Twitter account.

A recognition of these and other factors were important in the development of Bertrum, the lead character in the new campaign by Wieden+Kennedy for Arla's Cravendale milk brand. As consumer dairy products are of low interest to most people, W+K had quickly decided to develop an quirky initial campaign featuring three lead characters: a cow, pirate, and cyclist. Here, the objective was to metaphorically slap consumers around the face, and ignite interest in a brand and product. Any hope of the consumer absorbing any point of differentiation about the product – in this case, a triple filtration, preserving freshness for longer – required an execution which was quirky, different, and to an extent, provocative. Consumers had to notice it.

It was felt last year that the inherent creativity within that campaign had run its course, and that something new was needed. Its creartive quirkiness had something of a lasting effect on sales and on the audience, with the agency being mindful of the effect of turning the campaign off before its replacement could be turned on. As a result, a "farewell film" was made, with highlights of the campaign, in order to manage disruption amongst consumers sympathetic to the campaign: it was obviously important that this group could be migrated to a new campaign and thus remain customers of Cravendale.

Cravendale's market had also evolved. The milk sector is in decline, with the exception of the subcategory of filtered milk, where Cravendale is dominant. However, because it is dominant, it was perceived to be only a matter of time before new entrants would come into play and challenge the brand's market share. A new campaign had an additional, and not inconsiderable, challenge of building share at a time of perceived, and very powerful, commercial threats.

Theo Izzard-Brown and his team at W+K set about developing a new world for the brand – and it's very much a world. A context was developed which would frame the creative work within a new campaign over a longer term. The campaign effectively forms a plan for how the brand will change, rather than an attempt to simply move it on in every single execution.

"Fun within a framework" allowed Izzard-Brown and his colleagues to experiment with a set of boundaries that allowed for a continued sense of fun, and the ability to "jolt" the consumer with an off-the-wall visual treatment – but for both agency and brand to understand the boundaries. Every narrative treatment within the framework will utilise the same three-part structure: a truth, a progressive abstraction of that truth, and a resolution that lies within the brand. The framework subsequently gave rise to a brand world based on interconnected nodal points, to which characters, scenarios, executions and media could be tied together and managed as a whole. This gave W+K the chance to work with characterisation, but not to be hampered by it. It also provides a tonal and contextual consistency in every execution. As Izzard-Brown says: "If you see an execution in 2 years from now, it will be completely different, but yet strangely familiar."

Development of the new framework involved two new emotional characteristics for the brand. The first, "Breathless enthusiasm", signifies the direct and sheer delight of accessing a product – like opening a Christmas present. The second, "Mismatched intensity", is based on quirky and unique behaviours that are seen to be outside of standard practice, but unrelentingly creative in their approach. Together, these characteristics were designed to express the passion behind the product: a unique product which has taken time to produce. While this is clearly the case as far as Cravendale's characteristics are concerned (the triple-filtering), they allowed W+K to move away from the danger of explaining the product's advantages in a scientific way, inevitably inviting risk if they were not understood. In short, as Izzard-Brown says, the campaign is about "…getting carried away with milk. Having a structure within which you create oddness works much more effectively in terms of warming to it, and understanding what's being said. Cravendale has a legacy and a degree of permission to do something a bit weird; people expect and like that from us, which is great, and it's a real privilege to do that sort of communication. But, we needed to ground it in something that was more familiar.

"People like the elaborateness of the crest, that it's over-the-top, but done in a suitably knowing way. They appreciate the fact that it's milk at the end of the day, but Cravendale cares enough to put this much effort into it. It's about persuading the client to think that it's about everything that they do – from the smallest bit of copy on the back of the packaging, to the biggest ad, to tweets. We worked with Cravendale to shape and interpret this, so they had one very consistent expression of that love and passion."

Cravendale crest

The new ad features cats with thumbs. "It's all about trying to engineer the creative, to 'rub': looking for the bit that's a little bit dissonant, culturally, that makes you do a double-take." The intention of W+K's Cravendale team was to develop an execution that would appeal to a wide range of age groups: it would amuse those in their late teens and early 20s, who would watch it again and discuss it online – and raise it with their parents, who in turn will qualify the brand through watching the TV spot, and ultimately buy the product. Understanding generational and demographical interplay was important in developing such a quirky treatment. The creative approach should not be dissuasive to any of these groups.

As the campaign featured an unbranded video that was published online before the full campaign broke, there had to be a lot of careful planning as to what the reaction to a video of thumb-equipped cats might be. One such possibility was that it could just get lost. After all, there is a sea of cat content online, so it had to be different enough to be noticeable, but with a clear sense of narrative purpose. "It couldn't just be something funny with cats."

The figurehead of the new campaign is Bertrum, a thumb-enabled cat that is happy to converse with people on Twitter. However, the brand world allows the team to work with other characters and environments over time, to which Bertrum is just one part. "Characters can help in giving focus to the community. What we did not want to do was to create a meerkat, and to replace Cow-Pirate-Cyclist with another brand vehicle. What I'm hoping is that what Bertrum does is evidence: to talk about the brand's attitude to milk. Characters have limitations, but they are also hugely useful. What we're not trying to do is something about the cat's family, for example."

 Izzard-Brown sees the world that Bertrum inhabits as being less episodic in a standard, linear fashion, and more like the world of Marvel comics: a universe, held together with certain parameters, and with a narrative tone and style. New characters are permitted to be introduced, but they must have undergone significant development, backstory treatment, and their relationships need to be clear, before they are allowed into the world. Ultimately, the world allows a focal point to be owned by different characters over time, rather than be dominated by one character that becomes a creative millstone, as their relevance and interest declines in the marketplace.

Such an elaborate, interconnected world also gives permission for other visual elements to be brought into play, providing humorous references to particular audiences. The TV spots and video material featuring Bertrum are loaded with contemporary visual references. This provides additional stimulation for conversations to take place online, where a picking-apart of each video can take place, and for the identification of new visual cues to be shared within groups and communities.

So, where does this leave Bertrum? "I fully expect that Bertrum will pop up in the future in some shape or form. He might pop up in a fleeting presence. Someone will see him, and become the agent to tell people about it." This micro-empowerment retains people within the world, while continually seeking out new parts of it.

Bertrum clearly represents the start of a longer-term development for Cravendale and W+K. The development of a loyal fanbase, starting with Cat-Pirate-Cyclist and continuing into cats with thumbs, has enabled a brand personality to mature, and this new world to open up and flourish. By utilising fictional characters without being dependent on them, the agency has allowed for the taking of further creative risks, but within creative parameters. It clearly requires a considerable amount of care, attention and development: but, over time, we will start to see others within this new world – and understand and interact with them as many fans and followers have already done with the first inhabitants.

Theo Izzard-Brown is an Account Planner at Wieden+Kennedy London. A full set of videos from the current campaign, featuring cats with thumbs, can be seen at Cravendale's website and YouTube channel. Bertrum is @bertrumthumbcat on Twitter and you can find him on Facebook here.

Cravendale thumbcats ‘pure TV brilliance’ say several experts

Cravendale Thinkbox Marketing 30 March

'Ridiculous but relevant, original but appropriate', say judges of our Cravendale campaign, which has been named Thinkbox best TV ad winner for Jan/Feb. Here it is again:

Of course, Thumbcats is not just a TV ad, it's a full-on integrated lasagne of a campaign. You can also find Bertrum Thumbcat on Facebook and on Youtube.

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Above: a sample pic from Bertrum on Facebook.

Our Lurpak 'Kitchen Odyssey' spot came second in the voting.

Can a Thumbcat…

Friend of Cravendale – Bertrum Thumbcat – is orchestrating a 5 day event to prove the competency of thumbcats – and show the world what they are capable of.

If you’re curious about what they can do, ask ‘Can a thumbcat…’ on FB and Twitter and Bertrum will endeavor to display the dazzling power and cunning tactical skills of the polydactyl uprising.

Questions already resolved by Bertrum and the highly skilled Agent X include:

Can a thumbcat…

Form gangs and take over the world?


Well, of course. One step ahead of you there.

Play chequers?


Yup. But chess is more his thing.

Further proof of thumbcats' superiority to follow.

the dream of Bertrum Thumbcat, CEO

Bertrm thumbcat

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Bertrum Thumbcat is the star of our new Cravendale campaign. The above image is from his Facebook page, on which he reveals his plans for world domination. Bertrum says:

"I had a glorious nap (it being National Napping Day) and had glorious dreams. Dreams of great power.
Power and Deliciousness."

the making of Cravendale ‘cats with thumbs’

From MPC's blog:

Ulf Johansson and Wieden and Kennedy London have joined forces to create Cravendale’s new integrated campaign, Cats with Thumbs.  MPC worked with creatives Sam Heath, Chris Groom, Freddie Powell and Hollie Sayers to boost the kittens’ dexterity and take their acting skills to the next level!

The spot brings to life a man’s mental flight of fancy as he muses on what might happen if cats were to grow opposable thumbs.  The spot stars a number of polydactyl cats preparing themselves to try to get to the Cravendale milk they so love. The cats perform a range of human-like tasks with their evolved thumbs – they file their claws, knit, read [The Art of Military Strategy] and click their fingers, West Side Story-style.

The main challenge for this spot was not to use any CG and composite everything from live action plates.  Pre-production was essential as it allowed us to plan each shot as depicted in the storyboard and gave the cat trainer precious time to get the kittens’ acting skills up to scratch.  Artem built very detailed, matching paws for each of the cats featuring in the commercial which we used for some of the close-up shots. These were carefully tracked and composited into the cats' bodies. We then removed the real legs of the cats and used stills and numerous action plates of fur to marry the model paws together with the real cats.

The most challenging shot was probably the one where the cats are standing on their back legs and are walking into the house.  We built various versions of that shot, trying different approaches and using different plates in order to find the best takes to combine, as well as the best solutions for compositing, as it was very important to keep the real movement and shape of a cat standing and walking.  To achieve this we kept away from any warping or morphing and were clever in our use of the shot plates.

All the work was done in Flame and Flare with support from Nuke; head replacements, eyes, matching different takes of the cats and combining them into one seamless performance, were some of the tasks we had in order to tell the story of cats with thumbs, along with clean up and DMPs for set extensions.

Jean Clement Soret did the colour grading for the spot.

For more feline action follow feline overlord Bertrum the cat: http://www.facebook.com/bertrumthumbcat or @BertrumThumbcat on Twitter

Cats. With Thumbs.

‘Cats with Thumbs’ is the first piece of work in a brand new campaign from Wieden + Kennedy for Cravendale that intends to get totally carried away with everything milk-related. The TV ad brings to life a mental flight of fancy, musing on what might happen if cats were to grow opposable thumbs.

‘Cats with Thumbs’ is the first piece of work in a brand new campaign from Wieden + Kennedy for Cravendale that intends to get totally carried away with everything milk-related. The TV ad brings to life a mental flight of fancy, musing on what might happen if cats were to grow opposable thumbs.

'Cats with Thumbs' is the first piece of work in a brand new campaign from Wieden + Kennedy (that's us) for Cravendale that intends to get totally carried away with everything milk-related. The TV ad brings to life a mental flight of fancy, musing on what might happen if cats were to grow opposable thumbs.  


The lead cat in the film, Bertrum, a shrewd and wily creature, has been an active user of social networks for some time. He's got thumbs. And plans. BIG plans. Follow his hilarious quest for world domination on Facebook and Twitter

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In Bertrum's own words:

"Several people have questioned me about the specifics of My Plans. Obviously all the military strategy I have read discourages me from revealing too much all, but the basic plan is:
1) Have Thumbs.
3) Enjoy world domination."
Bertrum and his thumbed friends also feature on the revamped Cravendale website TheMilkMatters created by Outside Line.

Huge thanks to everyone involved at W+K and Arla, director Ulf Johanssen (Smith & Jones Films) and MPC. It's been mental.