The words “home-improvement specialty retailer” probably don’t make you laugh… but The Home Depot hopes that its adoption of a dry-witted orange cat named Richard can help consumers see the company’s fun side.
Bright orange, fluffy, and very self-possessed, Richard the cat recently hit the social networks to talk about life in a DIY home and share the story of Home Depot. The brand’s consumers can follow him on Twitter, create a meme (just choose the images and pictures, and the app generates it for you), and join in his cat-and-home-improvement observations on the internet.
To learn more about The Home Depot’s successful brand storytelling starring Richard the cat, I talked with Kathryn Emery, spokesperson for The Home Depot.
Tell me a little about Richard the cat.
To outsiders or people who first meet him, you might call Richard surly. However, once you get to know Richard, you realize he’s not so much surly as he is a mature feline who is impatient with the people (and pets) who surround him and are operating with less experience and knowledge than he has. For example, Richard provides quick-witted, sometimes sarcastic, advice and commentary an all of the goings-on during the spring. The Home Depot creates native experiences for Richard to engrain him in spring scenery, launching the campaign #DigIn.
What was the brainstorming session like? In other words, how did you decide on an orange cat named Richard for your storytelling?
We wanted to develop something that was authentic to and in the channels in which we were participating. The Richard the Cat character and his tone were the result of an internal brainstorm with our PR and social media teams, and it just evolved from there.
We latched onto the idea of using humor to have fun with the brand. From the beginning, we’ve worked really closely with a comedy writer from Funny or Die to keep our content fresh, sarcastic, and authentically Richard. We think that humor plays well in social channels and Richard’s voice gives our brand an opportunity to step outside that box and connect with new audiences. We’re testing some new things this spring as well. We’re incorporating video with Funny or Die and integrating shoppable content into our Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We’ve also launched a meme generator on Tumblr, so fans of Richard can create their own content to share as well.
I can understand the “orange” decision (matches so well with the Home Depot logo), but why choose a cat? Was there ever a dog close in the running?
They’re cute, they’re surly, they do what they want when they want… We don’t think it’s necessarily for The Home Depot to answer or define why cats are internet gold, but we certainly want to tap into it. When we were originally brainstorming concepts it was for the holidays, and we liked the idea of a character that could be sustainable beyond that moment in time and that would cut through the clutter a bit more than Santa or an Elf.
Richard seems quite the formal name for a cat. In Richard’s Tumblr account, he says he is “never Rick or Ricky.” Why not?
The cat has spoken and we’re just left to follow. Richard prefers his full, formal name, not the nicknames we’ve all tried to make stick. He’s a sophisticated and proper feline, and nicknames have no place in his world. He believes it’s full name or no name.
How did you decide on Richard’s voice?
Richard’s signature snark was developed in collaboration with our comedy writer at Funny or Die.
Are you using comedic partners for the entire Richard campaign?
We are working with a creative copywriter from Funny or Die to maintain Richard’s pithy tone and persona. We have media partners in Funny or Die, Buzzfeed, The Onion, 140Proof, and Blip.TV.
How do you decide on what’s funny?
We decide through collaboration with our noted copywriters and media partners, and we try to trust our instincts. You should see some of the content that hasn’t made its way to Tumblr!
How do you handle disagreements, if any, regarding what is humorous?
It can be settled a number of ways but at the end of the day, we’re working with some of the best in the business, and we trust our partners and our team. That said, The Home Depot is not too proud to admit that many a cat video, meme, and joke has circulated around office email and instant message–and we think that kind of professional collaboration keeps the content fresh and even funnier.
What’s the response been to the @RichardtheCat Twitter account? What’s the funniest response that you’ve received? (Or the worst…)
Please see below for some of our favorite tweets from Richard; they were some of his most popular retweets.
Laugh at me for chasing the laser pointer all you want, but I’m not the one buying bags of soil when I have a whole yard full of dirt.
— Richard the Cat (@RichardtheCat) April 23, 2013
In general, what’s the response been to Richard?
Richard’s launch over the holidays was a test and learn program. This is one of the first times where we’ve been able to pull all the pieces together for a truly integrated social campaign, pulled through 16 channels (owned, social, earned, paid). Over the holidays, Richard reached an audience of more than 54.6M over-indexed strongly for college-educated 18- to 34-year-old females. We continue to engage fans on Twitter and Tumblr with compelling, humorous, shareable content, and our impression and engagement numbers are looking great so far.
Which social network is your most active one? How do you decide which content goes to which social network?
Content is tailored to each network’s voice and tone.
What’s your marketing approach for spring/summer?
For spring, our content hub for this campaign remains on Tumblr (richardthecat.tumblr.com), and Richard will continue to have a voice through his dedicated Twitter account—@RichardtheCat. We are amping up our Tumblr experience through the introduction of a meme generator to drive more user-generated content (UGC). And we’ll continue to pull creative content through all of our other social channels. We are incorporating a video component into the campaign this year through a partnership with Funny or Die, and we were one of the first brands to work with The Onion on a sponsored article to help launch Spring Black Friday.
You’ll see other creative executions of content throughout the spring. Again, you’ll also see Richard the cat pop up on our HomeDepot.com properties, and we are using the #DigIn hashtag across all channels, in-store signage and in our broadcast, print and online ad creative to bring the conversation stream full circle. Also in-store, we are activating Social Booth in select cities that will feature a Richard the cat photobomb. To amplify the conversations, we’ve partnered with Tumblr to be a part of their beta test for mobile ads and also have media buys and integrations with Buzzfeed, 140Proof ,and Blip.TV.
What are future plans (beyond spring and summer) for Richard?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged in showbiz that children and pets can be the hardest to work with. We wouldn’t presume to make plans for this cat star’s whims, we’re just hoping to keep his wit around for as long as we can bribe him with catnip.