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Grumpy Cat and the Thriving Cat Meme Marketplace

The kitties are showing the marketing world who’s boss.

Jenna Goudreau

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Grumpy Cat

The internet sensation made famous by her perpetual pout is now perched atop a money-making empire. Represented by agent Ben Lashes and owned by Tabatha Bundesen, Grumpy Cat has inked a deal to star in what’s being called a Garfield-like feature film.

She also appears in videos sponsored by Friskies and is the subject of Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book (Chronicle Books, 2013), which will be published in September. What’s more, merchandise featuring the cantankerous kitty, from T-shirts to calendars and greeting cards, is sold by major retailers such as Walmart and Amazon.

Grumpy Cat Meme

Nyan Cat

The original YouTube video of this beloved cartoon cat with a Pop-Tart body, which flies through space leaving a trail of rainbows, has been viewed nearly 100 million times since April 2011. And there’s a pot of gold at the end of this meme’s rainbow.

Its creator Chris Torres has copyrighted the character, which is managed by Grumpy Cat’s agent Lashes, and built a career off its success. A complete line of Nyan Cat merchandise, including plush toys, clothing and accessories, debuted in December at a pop-up store in New York and is now sold on sites like Amazon.

Nyan Cat

Keyboard Cat

This meme of a shirt-wearing, piano-playing tabby has hit the big time. Keyboard Cat has appeared in commercials for Wonderful Pistachios and Google Chrome. Its creator Charlie Schmidt has fought hard to squash any unauthorised uses of Keyboard Cat’s likeness. He and Nyan Cat’s creator, Torres, this year filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Warner Bros. over a video game, which appears to feature both cats.

Keyboard Cat

Lil Bub

Profits off this internet star, known for her goofy, tongue-protruding appearance, helped pull owner Mike Bridavsky out of tough times. When his recording-studio business was struggling in 2011, photos of the bug-eyed cat began going viral. Bridavsky started selling merchandise featuring the fur ball and was eventually able to pay off the rent he owed on the studio.

This year, the cat starred in documentary Lil Bub & Friendz, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and will be the subject of Lil Bub’s Lil Book: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on the Planet (Gotham Books, 2013), released in September.

Lil Bub

Maru

This cat from Japan has a YouTube channel with 340 000 subscribers and videos that have collectively been viewed over 200 million times. The cat is known for his adorable hijinks, particularly stuffing himself inside small cardboard boxes.

Maru has gone from a viral video phenom to appearing in Fresh Step commercials for cat products. He is also featured in book I Am Maru (William Morrow, 2011) by his mysterious Japanese owner, who goes by Mugumogu.

Maru

Pete the Cat

Blue, sneaker-wearing Pete the Cat began as a self-published children’s book by Eric Litwin. Then, after a YouTube meme of two small girls trying and adorably failing to read the book gained internet traction, the character was discovered by editors at Harper Collins. Now he has infiltrated the toddler market with a total of four Pete-based picture books and a plush Pete doll sold at Walmart.

Pete the Cat

LOLcats

And the one that started it all in 2007, Ben Huh is the founder of Seattle-based business Cheezburger, which now has 90 employees. It owns a network of humour blogs and the popular website I Can Has Cheezburger, home of the LOLcat meme, in which cute cat photos are paired with funny captions.

The Cheezeburger blog network attracts 25 million unique visitors per month and has raised $32 million to create a platform where anyone can create memes. It is also the subject of Bravo reality TV show LOLwork.

LOL Cats

Jenna Goudreau is an associate editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she worked as a staff reporter for Forbes magazine and Forbes.com. Jenna has appeared on CBS, CNBC and MSNBC and contributed to ForbesWoman, Businessweek and Ladies' Home Journal magazines. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and lives in New York City. Email her at jgoudreau@entrepreneur.com and follow her on Facebook.

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