Home Depot turns to cat to build a brand

On the Internet, you can never go wrong with a cat.

Seeing the popularity of feline videos, and hoping to prove its sense of humor and online bona fides to a younger generation, Atlanta-based Home Depot is turning to a tomcat named Richard to introduce its brand to the Instagram set.

It’s the first time the home improvement retailer is using a character to sell Home Depot, and not to sell tools. Home Depot’s name is at the bottom of the pictures of Richard the cat, who is shown commenting on his owners’ inability to clean a litter box or decorate for the holidays in moderation. But as the company posts commentary and photos on the websites Twitter and Tumblr, it wants the surly cat to start a conversation and engage potential customers, not create sales.

Home Depot is also partnering with the snarky greeting card site Someecards and using a Funny or Die comedian to help with the humor.

“We need to inject a little humor into the brand in the social space,” said Trish Mueller, Home Depot’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “There’s a lot of engagement with cats.”

Cats have a large following on YouTube, with a number of videos that can claim hits in the millions.

If Richard is successful this holiday season, he’ll likely return for the spring, Home Depot’s busiest time of year, Mueller said.

By using a cynical cat as the face of its brand, Home Depot hopes to create a different voice than its mass media advertising shows. Richard makes Home Depot seem more contemporary, Mueller said. And as people interact with him, they become more inclined to think highly of Home Depot and turn to the retailer when they need to make a home improvement purchase.

“It gives us an in,” Mueller said.

The younger generation, which responds poorly to advertising and enjoys a funny Internet meme, is traditionally difficult to reach with traditional media, said Ken Bernhardt, a marketing professor at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Home Depot’s move is wise, he said, because it will get attention and has the potential to go viral.

Even if it does not, he said, it’s perceived as something different. And because the cat is appearing on new media, Home Depot likely does not run the risk of offending or losing customers who prefer traditional advertisements and likely will not see Richard.

“The success for them is simply getting on the radar screen with millennials,” he said. “I think it is pretty hip. It’s certainly nontraditional messaging for a home improvement place.”

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