Tardar Sauce or more famously known for her celebrity persona, "Grumpy Cat", passed away on 14 May 2019. Her death was announced on social media and met with thousands of condolences from around the world.
Grumpy Cat became an overnight internet sensation when a photo of her and her 'grumpy expression' (caused by feline dwarfism and malocclusion (underbite)) went viral in 2012. Like all cats, Grumpy Cat was a natural in the spotlight. Soon Grumpy Cat was making celebrity appearances, posing with the likes of Elon Musk and Al Gore, being a TV and movie star, endorsing products and 'writing' books. Grumpy Cat is estimated to have earned her owners $100 million.
The power behind the "Grumpy Cat" brand lies in its intellectual property (IP), namely the image, the name and the mark (i.e. Grumpy Cat). Social media made Grumpy Cat famous for free, creating the brand that her owners would then apply to countless goods and services. After the owners incorporated a company for Grumpy Cat and registered the trademark(s), commercial success was just a meow away.
And despite that underbite, Grumpy Cat had teeth! In 2018, Grumpy Cat won a copyright and trademark infringement case against a company for using her name and image without permission and received $710,001 in damages.
Grumpy Cat shows us the effectiveness of capitalising on intellectual property and ensuring you have a means to protect it. Whether the first step is incorporating your company or registering your trademark, be ready to protect your brand (after all, it's all about the cat-titude). Equally, Grumpy Cat is a reminder that images and content online (including memes) are not free to use and are subject to copyright and often trademark protections. We’ve written about meme copyright infringement previously, click here for more insights
As for the ensuing commercial success, we discern a combination of traditional IP rights interwoven with ersatz forms of protection (appropriate for someone who is a member of the domesticated animal kingdom). At the heart of traditional IP is the mark “Grumpy Cat”, which serves as the linchpin for the branding of the various goods and services. The picture of the Grumpy Cat may be the initial draw, but it is the name and mark with which we connect commercially. Such exploitation of the name and mark is “Branding 101”, reminding us just how powerful a brand may be in exploiting the community around which the picture, meme and ultimately the name and mark coalesce.