Decoding the mystique of the Mannings cat

When a ginger-haired feline celebrity outshines pseudo-models at the Hong Kong Book Fair, you know you’ve stumbled on a pretty solid idea.

A cat album featuring Mannings biggest celebrity sold more than 8,000 copies, this is in addition to a recent "Mannings Cat" video which was the most viewed clip on YouTube in Hong Kong last week.

Yes, Hong Kongers do have a bizarre love for oversized cats.

But the kitten endorsement from health and beauty retailer Mannings has taken our feline friend beyond pure entertainment to a deeper insight into the local market.

The idea, born from the partnership between Mannings and its agency Metta has resulted in an iconic mascot representing health and beauty, with a light-hearted approach.

Sales and marketing director Athen Chung and Metta founder Andrew Lee describe the “Mannings Cat” as the perfect way to speak to a broad market that can basically include everyone in Hong Kong.

“Manufacturing tone is an enemy in our advertising,” she says.

“In order to craft a strong brand identity, we need to go for something that nobody has done it before, that is, to endorse an iconic mascot to present our marketing positioning - health and beauty - with a light-hearted approach," notes Chung.

Speaking for the creative team, Lee adds: "Many other animals were considered in the initial stage such as turtle, duckling or even ant. We gave the final vote to cat because it is one of the most popular pet for Hong Kong people."

However, he stresses the fluffy cat is not the focal point, but the stories it tells.

"What important is the entertainment values conveyed in the stories. It doesn't matter if they are sentimental, humours or cheery, as long as they provoke emotions from audiences."

“In those videos we carefully built in branding, the colour and tone of the brand, and what's more, the local relevancy," says Lee.

Back in 2012, the two units have crafted a tear-jerking ad campaign that centred on a sentimental story told from the perspective of a fluffy kitten, which later known as the "Mannings Cat".

"The thematic campaign is designed to craft our brand image, which is co-related to our market share. It is therefore crucial to stay on an emotional appeal to strike a chord with locals and to evoke their emotions," Chung explains.

"One of my friend called me up right after she watched the ad, weeping, saying that she was moved by it."

In honour of the feline mascot, most recently the brand has ramped up the cat fever with the final episode unveiled last week, which associates the overweighed cat with fitness guru Jung Da Yeon.

Only a week after its debut, the final wave saw nearly 1 million views on its dedicated YouTube channel, Hong Kong's highest rating video last week.

What makes the viral videos so contagious on social media? For what the partners believe, on top of the kitty's adorable figure and humanised facial expressions, is actually heavily linked to a strong local touch.

Highlighting its marketing focus "Mannings beauty", the latest fitness-themed episode hinges on the local insight of increasing fitness public awareness and takes an aim to bring audiences into a healthy regime.

"The key point is to make the content relevant to topics of pubic interest," Lee continues.

"In Jung Da Yeon spots, we implant the four most valued health trends in Hong Kong including sliming, body shaping, joints and cardio exercise, at the heart of the videos in order to hook local audiences."

Alongside the 30 second TVCs were a string of fitness tutorials launched on the campaign's dedicated YouTube channel in phases, which according to Lee, were created specially for social media.

"The entire cat series were strategically screened by phases as a tease to interest audiences for the desire to know what will happen next. All of which are totally internet-enabled. They are created for long advertising,” he adds.

To maximise the use of social media, a pack of localised virtual stickers inspired by the kitty are also available on instant messaging platform Line.

The partners reveal that they are "actively considering" to extend the kitten-inspired components onto mobile social platforms, including WeChat and Whatsapp.