Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Creating the Online Dating Catfish That’s a Real Catch
Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
Zulu Alpha Kilo’s ECD, Brian Murray speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about using absurdity to stand out from the crowd for a2 Milk

According to Zulu Alpha Kilo’s Brian Murray, the milk market in Canada is one that can be characterised by its maturity and competitiveness. There are lots of different and well-established brands, especially with more and more dairy-free alternatives entering the market, that are all vying for the same cereal-drowning, shake-making, milk-loving Canadians. 

Unlike in other parts of the world, Brian explains that Canadians generally have a pretty positive perception of cow milk, on account of the relatively high standard of animal welfare that the nation’s dairy industry upholds. So what happened when Canadian agency Zulu Alpha Kilo was tasked with marketing a new cow milk product that is easier to digest than regular milk? Well… they set out to avoid dairy marketing tropes, creating a campaign for a2 Milk that is a whole different kettle of fish. 

Working with special FX studio Anatomorphex, Zulu Alpha Kilo created a human-sized (and human-loving) catfish, to tell a story of a catfish that catfishes people on an online dating service. A catfish… catfish. You get the idea. Showing that a2 Milk is easier to digest than what life can sometimes throw at you - like being catfished by a real ‘catch’ - this campaign’s bizarre sense of humour and storytelling twists help the product to stand out in an oversaturated market.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Zulu Alpha Kilo’s ECD, Brian Murray, to discuss where the concept came from, changing it up in the dairy market, and the surprisingly nuanced performance of a man in a catfish costume.  

LBB> A catfish that’s a catfish - it’s fairly self-explanatory where that idea comes from. But when and why was the link made between this idea and A2 Milk?

Brian> This is Zulu Alpha Kilo’s first campaign working with a2 Milk. The brief was to increase awareness of a2 Milk in Canada, since it is a relatively new product here. Most Canadians have never heard of a2 protein and don’t understand that it’s easier to digest. So, we needed to make sure we communicated the product benefit clearly and in an unignorable way. 

So first, we developed the campaign platform idea that gut-friendly a2 Milk is even easier to digest than life’s little problems – so you can “Feel Ama2ing”. Then we started plugging different scenarios into the construct. We found the catfish scenario so culturally relevant, visually striking and funny that we all agreed it should be the execution to go with for launch. 

LBB> When was it decided to have a human-sized catfish in a skit? Did this absurd/comical approach influence other creative decisions and the choice of production company/director?

Brian> A number of creatives contributed to this campaign. A creative team came up with an idea about someone showing up for a date and then being disappointed that they got catfished. We tossed the idea around for a bit and it quickly evolved to the person being catfished by an actual catfish. I suppose it didn’t have to be a human-sized catfish – but the thought of it made us laugh so we figured it would make other people laugh too. We did some googling afterwards and it turns out that some catfish can grow to be over 600 lbs. – so the size isn’t actually an exaggeration. We googled some more but couldn’t find any evidence of a catfish that can speak though.  

LBB> Why were Spy Films and Fatal Farm the ideal pick for the campaign? 

Brian> Spy Films is a great production company with a respected reputation in Toronto.  Ultimately, the decision was made because we wanted to work with Fatal Farm. They had a good grasp of the absurdity of the material and have a lot of experience shooting comedy.  

LBB> Who designed and made the catfish costume? What was your reaction when you first saw the finished design and the suit in real life?

Brian> The catfish costume was designed and made by ANATOMORPHEX out of Los Angeles. Our contribution to the costume design was the catfish’s tie and fedora, because we wanted some shared visual cues between the catfish and his dating app fake profile pic. 

We were blown away by how great the suit looked in real life and really impressed with how it was somehow capable of delivering a good performance. We were always mindful that the catfish couldn’t seem menacing or creepy; the catfish ended up being quite a wonderfully sympathetic character. 

LBB> You say that you avoided “dairy tropes” in this campaign - what tropes were you avoiding? Was it easy to get the A2 Milk team on board with a slightly bizarre approach?

Brian> There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of dairy industry advertising in Canada - and most of it looks and feels the same. It’s warm and fuzzy and features hardworking farmers waking up at the crack of dawn and walking out to their fields to feed, affectionately stroke and milk their cows. As a new entrant, the a2 Milk team in Canada knew that we needed to make breakthrough work to get noticed in this market. They were fantastic to work with, always pushing us to keep challenging them.   

The milk market is very mature and competitive in Canada. This was such an exciting opportunity because a2 Milk is a challenger brand and a truly differentiated product, which is rare in the category.  

LBB> Also, Cow’s Milk in general seems to get some fairly negative press nowadays - was this something you took into consideration in the creative process?

Brian> We were definitely aware of the sensitivities of the milk category. But one benefit of being in a market with so much dairy advertising is that Canadians have a relatively positive perception of our dairy industry and understand that our cows are treated better than pretty much anywhere else. Also, we weren’t trying to lure new people to the milk category, so this wasn’t a hurdle that we needed to jump. 

LBB> The long-form video intertwines the characters’ stories together, but can also neatly be separated into three separate ads - is this maximising of content for different formats something you consider in a lot of projects nowadays? 

Brian> Yes, we always want to be efficient with our production dollars – creating a single long-form asset that can be cut down into smaller pieces of content is a great way to achieve efficiencies. We prioritised structuring our storytelling so all the shorter assets conform with all the best practices of online video to maximise the impact of our paid media. And we viewed the long-form video as more of a ‘lean in’ piece of content where we (hopefully) reward viewers for choosing to spend more time watching our video. As unorthodox as it may be, it’s actually also a very hard-working asset that manages to educate consumers about how a2 Milk is made. 

LBB> Who had the unfortunate role of being inside the Catfish suit? It must have been warm under set lighting…

Brian> Peter Chevako [S.A.G. puppeteer, mechanical Designer, and special FX fabricator at Anatomorphex] played the role of the catfish. It was a long shoot day and he was in almost every shot for the entire day. We’d have to keep taking breaks because it was so hot inside the suit under the lights. We were all very impressed that he could give a properly nuanced performance from inside such a large, cumbersome suit. 

LBB> What was the hardest challenge you faced on this project? And how did you overcome it?

Brian> The hardest challenge of this campaign was creating work that would appeal to Canadians and achieve a breakthrough in this market but didn’t conflict with how the brand had been rolled out in different markets around the world. It took a lot of exploration. A giant catfish definitely wasn’t our first idea. 

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