I cannot vouch for the truth of this story but it's one of those that you would love to believe - mainly because it reinforces the romantic myth that advertising is a product of individual genius rather than the final outcome of exhaustive, mechanical analysis.
And it would be ironic to think that by far the strongest advertising property that McCann has produced in recent memory was based on no more complex research resource than the brain of a creative.
It's hard to imagine a more impeccably positioned concept for the Bacardi Breezer brand than McCann's silver tabby. There's an obvious appeal for the alcopop's core 18- to 25-year-old female demographic, but equally impressive is the moggy's potential to break down the prejudices that tend to leave men sneering at "fruit-based drinks for the ladies". There was just enough of a laddish edge about the first Tomcat ad to land the right side of the fine line between amusing blokes and embarrassing yourself in front of them.
Of course, McCann and Bacardi Breezer have been getting far more than their pound of flesh out of the idea. The cross-media and PR offensive around "Tomcat has been overwhelming. The damn animal has been literally inescapable in the past year or so what with a column in Loaded, an appearance at Maxim's women of the year awards and an ambient campaign that at one point seemed to include every rickshaw in central London. Personally, I felt this got a bit much but there's really no arguing with the results.
The idea's media-neutrality is there for all to see and a 59 per cent sales rise during 2001 speaks for itself.
As far as the TV advertising goes, however, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that "Tomcat is beginning to feel his age. I don't think that the advertising has become poor exactly, it's just that it has become a little thin, despite gallant efforts to breathe life into it through Matrix-style effects and romantic rivalries.
One aspect of the problem is the ethical restrictions that surround the use of animals in alcohol advertising. Before "Tomcat", the most famous four-legged appearance in a booze ad came with the 80s US launch of Bud Light. Some creative genius had worked out that the wobbly, too-deliberate gait of this particular animal was hilariously evocative of a drinker after one too many. Putting this dog through several scenes filled with sexy partygoers and pool-loungers got across perfectly the pleasant sensation of having a drop too much yet neatly sidestepped the issue of showing intoxication in a TV ad.
McCann and Bacardi have been unwilling to use their animal in quite the same way. This is partly because cats are not clumsy animals and, I would guess, partly because client and agency are unwilling to enter such ethically dubious territory. The result, however, is that we get little impression of Tom actually interacting with the product and, after three or four ads, this leaves the result seeming slightly contrived.
Which is why I was particularly impressed by the latest Tom spot. It uses cats' inherent laziness to evoke one aspect of the drinking experience - the long, lazy recovery from a big night out - and the character of the moggy feels far more engaging and filled out as a result.
Dead cert for a Pencil? No, but the cat deserves an Oscar.
File under ... G for getting stale.
What would the chairman's wife say? Put the bloody cat out.
This article was first published on Campaign