Illustrations of cats have been used in conjunction with advertising for a wide variety of products for well over a century. Inclusion of a cat in an ad, while it may seem improbable, was often a subtle focal point of the ad and a major selling "boost".
Advertisements for Harry Winston jewelry
During the latter part of the Victorian era (1839-1901), a fascination with cats, cat shows and exhibitions was developing in Great Britain. Cat ownership was becoming very popular, so it seems appropriate that vendors eventually took advantage of the popularity of the cat and incorporated one into printed advertisements or shop posters. The cat, illustrated in various designs and activities, could be found in magazine and newspaper ads as early as 1874.
Prior to the introduction of reasonably priced magazine advertising came the trade card. Trade cards, containing vendor information and sometimes a black/white illustration, were introduced during the 1700's and given to customers by tradesmen as a way for customers to remember where they obtained a product or service. In 1853, a duty on advertisement in Britain was abolished, and the trend toward mass advertising started to grow by leaps and bounds.
Near the end of the 19th century, color lithography was starting to be widely used for printing and the simple cards became much more attractive and desirable. Companies started handing out cards with a colorful illustration on one side and their company advertising on the back. These delightful trade cards became quite plentiful. They actually became so plentiful that shoppers in the late 1800's were usually given a trading card of some sort for each of their product purchases, or customers could help themselves to a stack of cards displayed on the store counter top. When trade fairs and world expositions became popular they were tremendous venues for companies to pass out their trade cards. Today, they are a highly sought collectible.
In America, cats appeared in magazine ads for Ivory Soap as early as 1899, continuing in 1900, 1906, 1918, and throughout the years into the 1940's. In 1900, an exceptional ad for Ivory Soap appeared in the November issue of Woman's Home Companion. The ad featured 12 cats - 11 black and one white - surrounding a bowl of water with a bar of Ivory Soap floating in it. The ad itself is a unique piece of artwork, signed by W. P. McDonald and John Dee Wareham (President of the Cincinnati Art Club, 1906-1908). In fact, the ad was so popular that one could mail 10 Ivory Soap wrappers to Proctor & Gamble and receive a print of this Art Nouveau illustration.
To this day, advertisers recognize that the inclusion of a cat in their advertisement will increase its visibility. A powerful force in the marketing of any product is an appealing and attractive advertisement, and the cat continues to be successfully used to evoke feelings of "silence, softness, beauty, luxury and femininity".
©Karen Lawrence 2011