Most Cincinnatians by now have probably heard of the Purina-owned Tidy Cats ad campaign, but not for the kitty-litter-flying-off-the-shelves type of reason, which I’m sure Purina was striving for. The premise of the campaign is this: people are instructed to “share what stinks in your life” in an online public forum. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that the idea was kinda clever, more so odd, but mostly an average attempt at an online advertising campaign.
It wasn’t until the brand erected a Cincinnati billboard that read “You’re so over Over-the-Rhine. Life stinks.” that Cincinnatians’ ears perked up and the claws came out. (Over-the-Rhine (OTR) is an historic neighborhood just north of Cincinnati’s downtown.) In a matter of minutes, an online cat fight erupted. Cincinnatians weighed in on Twitter, Facebook, the Tidy Cats website and other social media platforms.
In response to “what stinks,” below are a few examples:
“Your marketing decisions for this campaign. It’s deplorable that you insult our inner city neighborhoods. Especially Over the Rhine. [sic]”
“As a resident of Over the Rhine your advertisement is cruel and undeserved. sincerely hope that you will remove the advertisement immediately.[sic]”
“OTR has had a troubled past but the neighborhood is on the rise. Incredibly offended that You would make such an ad against the community.[sic]”
“How is making fun of OTR considered funny? By whom? The billboard was cruel and in poor taste. The billboard is no different than a bully on the school playground picking on a less fortunate kid.[sic]”
As a downtown resident and frequent OTR patron, I was proud of my fearless felines.
Full of energy and pride, the resurgence of the OTR neighborhood is something I’m most proud of as a Cincinnati urbanite. CityBeat readers have named OTR the “best neighborhood” for the second consecutive year, so I’m still scratching my head as to what the billboard actually meant. Regardless, what I find the most interesting is what happened as a result of those powerful, angry posts.
After the online outrage, Purina immediately issued an apology. The Tidy Cats Facebook page reads: “We’re sorry – our attempt at humor on our billboard mentioning OTR wasn’t funny to many of you. We’ll be taking fast action to correct our mistake. Please accept our sincere apologies. – Tidy Cats Team”
Days after the public apology, the ad was removed and replaced with a billboard encouraging pet adoption.
We’ve seen social media’s power to elicit change before. The opinions expressed through Twitter and Facebook have reverberated powerfully and catalyzed seismic change, most notably, contributing to the government overthrows of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Of course, pairing government oppression and cat litter is a foul comparison. I have to admit though; it’s quite a feeling to witness firsthand all that can be accomplished with a whole lot of #OTRpride and just 140 characters or less.