A view from Unruly

Sheba's bizarre cat spot takes the edge off a stressful week

Sheba's "What cats want" is easily one of the stranger ads in recent memory.

"What Cats Want’ suffuses its minute-long ad with a rather bizarre sexual undertone, complete with the titular cat’s owner wandering about in his boxers."


Let’s be honest, if you live in the UK (or Europe, for that matter), it’s been a pretty stressful week.

Wherever you land politically, things seem pretty uncertain at the moment: the pound plummeted over the weekend; England were knocked out of the Euros by a team managed by a part-time dentist; and pretty soon Britain’s only non-resigned public figures will be Ainsley Harriott and the 118 118 guys.

In times of such uncertainty, it’s natural to turn to the things that never change: good friends, the great outdoors and – that’s right, folks - cats on the internet!

If there ever comes a time when you can’t easily find a fresh source of cats being cute online, that’s when we really need to start worrying.

This week’s entry comes from cat food brand Sheba, whose "What cats want" is easily one of the stranger spots in recent memory.

While plenty of online videos are simply content to showcase cats purring, sleeping and generally existing, ‘What Cats Want’ suffuses its minute-long ad with a rather bizarre sexual undertone, complete with the titular cat’s owner wandering about in his boxers.

But before anyone reports the video, let’s clarify the plot. Opening on a couple passionately kissing after a date, our lead encounters a nightmare date scenario: his cat won’t stop staring at him.

Unable to resist his pet’s demands for dinner, the thwarted lover abandons his date to serve up a bowl of Sheba cat food as a romantic ballad swells on the score.

Understandably, his date is pretty peeved by this and leaves man and cat to their business. Sound pretty weird? Well, it is. But in Sheba’s defence, there’s a good precedent for a touch of surrealism in the world of cat food advertising.

For example, Sheba seem to be directly parodying its own mid-’90s spot "Recipe of love", which uses an incredibly schmaltzy anthem and some suggestive visuals to suggest its lead may have actually married her cat.

But that’s only the beginning. How about Whiskas' 2010 spot, which finds a woman prevented from paying her utility bills by her bright purple CGI tabby? Or even Felix’s animated ad about a cat so needy it feels the need to interrupt phone calls? Or an appearance from the world’s most famous anthropomorphised cat, Garfield, in a superbly ‘80s spot for Alpo?

Besides being a tremendous way to waste a couple of hours, the immense back catalogue of strange, strange cat food advertisements can teach us a few important lessons.

First of all, people will watch anything involving a cat, no matter how essentially weird the actual content is. Secondly, a real cat always beats a CGI or animated cat, no matter how wacky the latter’s antics might be. Thirdly, every option is trumped by a video featuring a variety of animals, hanging out together.

Lest we forget, this is the most shared online ad of all time. So where does Sheba’s latest stand on this scale? Uncomfortable subtext aside, it’s a fun little sketch that parodies pet owners’ slavish attachment to their furry friends.

However, a lack of focused cat cuteness will likely hamper the shares of "What cats want", which has been viewed just over 10,000 times so far. For more of that, you’ll have to check out BuzzFeed and Friskies’ series-length dissertation on the subject of cat ownership, ‘Dear Kitten’. Now there’s a balm for troubled times.