Grumpy Cat her real name was Tardar Sauce rose to fame in 2012 after her owner's brother, Bryan Bundesen, posted images of the cat's perpetual frown on Reddit. To address suggestions that the cat had been Photoshopped into that expression, Grumpy Cat's owner Tabatha Bundesen posted videos of her to YouTube. That's when Grumpy Cat went viral.
Grumpy Cat was such a big shot that she even had legal troubles. Last year, Grumpy Cat Limited the company founded by Bryan Bundesen to handle Grumpy's business won more than $700,000 in damages from a beverage company that had licensed Grumpy Cat to sell a line of iced coffees called Grumppuccinos. Grumpy Cat Limited claimed the company violated the licensing deal by selling unauthorized Grumppuccino T-shirts.
"I love cats. I'm cranky. So I really identified with this image," said Tabitha Blankenbiller, a freelance writer who wrote a 2014 essay titled, "How Grumpy Cat Changed My Life" about her trip to see the cat at an Arizona bookstore. "The medium was correct, the timing was right for this really succinct message of lighthearted cynicism. The internet and cats are like peanut butter and jelly."
"Grumpy Cat was always just around but (by 2017) almost at a point that was above the internet. It had crossed over into the mainstream, doing conventions, TV appearances. So it was a little bit removed," Schimkowitz added.
Part of Grumpy's success came down to timing. Her owner "capitalized on the meme economy when it was possibly at its hottest," said Mike Froggatt, a director at consultancy firm Gartner L2. She also rose to popularity when Instagram was fairly new and it was possible for brands to build large followings quickly and organically, he added.
The cat's work with pet brands and other partners helped, too, Froggatt said. She felt authentic, and that endeared her to her audience.
Grumpy Cat embodied the internet of 2013: "cute, weird, and very sarcastic," said Claire Graves, executive director of the Webby Awards, which issues annual awards to notable content on the internet. Graves said Grumpy set "a huge benchmark" for other animal influencers of "mostly dogs who have tried to replicate her success."
So, will any of Grumpy's successors ever rise to her level of fame?
"She was a true original, and even if it can't be copied completely, it'll leave a mold for success for those to follow," Froggatt said in an email. He added that there is "still room for successful pet influencers, especially as brands look for more niche audiences to market products authentically in an increasingly difficult and expensive social media world."
"It's not like anyone is going to stop liking dogs and cats," Schimkowitz said. "I mean they're adorable. And when you have an owner that recognizes one particular animal's brand of adorable, that is always going to be popular."