‘Grumpy Cat’ Leaves Behind Business Empire and Some Copycats

Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock
May 17, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

Grumpy Cat ー the famous, very frustrated cat actually named Tardar Sauce ー is dead at age 7 following complications related to a urinary tract infection. Grumpy Cat (and her many discontents) first came to prominence in 2012 on Reddit and then became a viral, and perennial, internet meme.

“We lost an icon. We could say meme of the year, but really meme of the decade,” Austin Powell, the features director at the Daily Dot, told Cheddar. “Grumpy Cat came from a time when everyone was on Tumblr, and we were sharing simple image macros on Facebook. It’s the only meme people still use from that time.”

The cat came to be regarded as universally relatable. Powell added that part of Grumpy Cat’s staying power was that the feline reminded us of an “older, safer, more innocent version of the internet.” Importantly, the cat wasn’t actually that angry; her scowl was the unique result of feline dwarfism and an underbite.

“What really made the difference, in the end, was Grumpy Cat’s owners. They really did everything they could do to capitalize on this opportunity,” said Powell. “Many memes have tried to make something of their status, but Grumpy Cat transcended all of that. We’re talking about a Friskies campaign, Honey Nut Cheerios, a Lifetime Christmas movie voiced by Aubrey Plaza. The list just goes on and on.”

In 2014, Business Insider reported that, within just two years, Grumpy Cat had earned her owner, Tabatha Bundesen, nearly $100 million dollars. And just last year, the owners of Tardar Sauce managed to win another $710,000 more in a copyright infringement lawsuit

The life of Tardar Sauce reveals how a meme can transform into a commercial enterprise of its own, and raises the question of what happens to a meme-inspired business when the original inspiration ー in this case, an angry feline ー passes away. The death of a pet with a large, lucrative social media following can also mean the death of valuable brand deals, a phenomenon explored by the Guardian last fall.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists several live patents filed for “Grumpy Cat,” showing the wide range of products a meme can turn into, from action figures to paper products. Though interest in the cat has waned since its first round of internet glory in 2013, according to Google Trends, Grumpy Cat has turned into an extensive licensing business. There have been Grumpy Cat plush toys, coffee drinks, and even a Sketchers shoe, among other items that bore the cat’s notorious scowl.

Grumpy Cat also leaves behind a slew of copycat products, like T-shirts and toys, that also capitalized on the premise Tardar Sauce made famous: an upset feline.

For full interview click here.