Sometimes I procrastinate by watching cat videos (yeah, you know you do it, too). But it’s not just all fur and fluff – New York Magazine estimates Internet star Grumpy Cat is worth $1 million dollars. With merchandise, a New York Times Bestseller, another book on the way, a Friskies endorsement deal and a feature film in the works, Grumpy’s not just some cute cat, she’s a brand.
As I gaze at the purring cat in my lap, I find myself thinking, “Why not my pet?” I don’t need an empire, but it’d be great to make money to cover the vet bills and other pet expenses.
Make your cat an Internet star: secrets from famous cats
Henri le Chat Noir: “I’m told I’m famous on the Internet.”
Henri, feline philosopher and winner of the Golden Kitty for best cat video at the Internet Cat Video Festival 2012, has a book, an endorsement deal with Friskies, merchandise including calendars, and advertising on his YouTube channel. I interviewed filmmaker Will Braden via email about how he made the angsty and existential Henri Le Chat Noir an Internet sensation. Braden supports himself through all things Henri, while also contributing generously to animal charities and heading up the Internet Cat Video Festival.
- Any suggestions for someone making a cat video? “As for advice, I always say keep it short, keep the premise clear, and make sure your best joke is at the end…the rest of it is just up to the whims of fate.”
- How do you get your video to stand out? “It’s hard to sift through the detritus (on the Internet) and find good stuff, but things like Facebook and Twitter do help with that. There are ways to align yourself with people and blogs that have similar interests, so you know that if something is interesting or funny enough, you’ll see it eventually.” Make a short video and post it as many share sites as possible (see list below).
- Are making videos a big financial investment? “Not at all. Sometimes I’ll buy an occasional prop, or I’ll bribe people with food to be extras if need be.” Henri’s videos are artistic and have clever subtitles and voice-over, but all you really need is a cellphone and a cat, no sets or script required.
- Do you have to be Internet-savvy? “I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to learn a lot of this as I go. I was a total neophyte about so much of this, but I am one of those people that is always excited to learn new things. This was just one big yellow brick road of discovery for me. There have definitely been times where I’ve felt a little overwhelmed and having an agent (or really, an assistant) would have been helpful, but I’ve always managed to pull through. It’s such a fun job.”
- So how much does it cost to make your cat famous? “Not much, just your soul…and some treats.”
Nyan Cat and Seven the Kitty: purrsonality reigns
With her big eyes, natural eyeliner, gorgeous face, and silly open-mouthed expressions, rescue cat Seven the Kitty is a real up-and-comer. This hysterical picture of her photobombing a metallic Christmas tree went viral last holiday season, making her an instant sensation. There’s even a “Seven the Kitty” appreciation post on Tumblr with over 100,000 posts. Her owner, Chris Torres, has had success with another Internet feline star – he is the creator of the insanely popular Nyan Cat meme.
- Money from memes. Since Nyan Cat took off, Torres has earned enough money from merchandising and YouTube hits to donate over $50,000 to charity and, like Grumpy Cat’s owner, was able to quit his day job.
- How he did it. “Funny story,” Torres said, “the night I created the Nyan Cat image and put it online was just hours before I had to go to a new job I was just hired for. It was a simple desk job for an insurance firm…I tried to juggle my work and the increasing popularity of Nyan Cat but a year later I had all of these trips that big companies wanted me to take so I had to make a choice: either stay at this job or follow my dreams. I’m glad I made the choice I made to follow my dreams, because it’s been a nonstop crazy awesome ride since.”
- How did Seven’s photobomb get noticed? “At the time, I was only posting Seven photos on my personal Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook…Now I stick mainly with the Facebook page, which is doing great on its own. Almost any photo I post gets thousands of Likes in an hour. If I post any photo of her on my Nyan Cat Facebook it’ll get like 40,000 Likes in minutes.”
- Are you pursuing endorsements for her? “I’ve actually been approached by some people already wanting to use Seven for some projects, but if I’ve learned anything from Nyan Cat’s success, it’s not to say yes to every single deal that comes along. Right now I’m just happy posting photos of her when I can.”
How to make your cat stand out: starting tips
- Be your catself. Not every cat is going to play the piano like Nora or Keyboard Cat, or hilariously slide into boxes like Maru. Sometimes the best videos just show cats doing their everyday cat things. Oki the Moustache Cat can just sit and groom himself and it’s entertaining. Hamilton the Hipster cat – also mustachioed – can chatter at a bird outside a window and we’re beside ourselves.
- Be funny. For a good laugh, check out the cat “singing” videos by Kartiv2. These are some of the most ordinary looking cats ever – no dwarfism, no fancy mustaches – yet, these cats are stars.
- Set up a YouTube channel. Uploading videos to YouTube is free. It’s getting views that’s tricky. If you get enough views, advertisers will pay YouTube to run an ad before a viewer can watch your video. YouTube takes a portion of the profits and passes the rest off to the person who made the video – you.
- Get on Facebook. Check out the FB pages of cats like Sam Has Eyebrows and his near-twin Louie the Eyebrow Cat (personally, I think these two should team up) and get a peek at the pages of the hilarious Princess Monster Truck and the equally dentally-challenged Coco Puff: The Snaggletooth Kitty Girl and Fangsy: The Underbite Kitteh. Facebook is free, but for a fee, you can pay them to promote your pet. If you are serious about getting your page noticed, it may be worth a small investment once you’ve built your page up a bit. Some famous cats don’t have websites – just really successful Facebook pages!
- Make a website. With easy and free website builders like wix.com, you can create a website for your cat. WordPress is great, too, and free. You can sell merchandise through various websites like Zazzle, CafePress and Spreadshirt, attaching links to your website. It’s not difficult and there is no cost to you. You may even make some money! That said, creating and maintaining a website is a TON of work, so you may first want to get your paws wet with just a YouTube channel or Facebook page.
- Learn from famous cats. “Like” the pages of famous Internet cats like Owlbert, Nala Cat and Venus the Amazing Chimera Cat. Follow what they are posting to see what readers respond to.
- Special needs kitties need love, too! If you have a soft spot in your heart for cats facing extraordinary struggles, check out Murdock the Marvelous Blind Cat, Gabe, Kitty Cancer Warrior and the FIV+ Morton for Mayor.
- Get inspired. Click out the sites for Pudge the Cat, Shorty and Kodi and Bebe Splotch Cat.
Where should I share my cat memes and videos?
- Aggregators like Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram and Sulia.
- Facebook pages such as Cat Addicts Anony-mouse, And My Cat, Crazy Cat Ladies Unite and Catster are great places to submit (and view!) content.
- Check Out Feline Film Festivals. Watch the submission deadline for The Internet Cat Video Festival, a traveling event worth attending for inspiration. The same goes for The First Annual SF Intergalactic Feline Film & Video Festival for Humans, should you be in the San Francisco area.
- I Can Has Cheezburger. This website plays such a big role in launching kitty careers that we devoted an entire section of this post to it, right below.
One Internet meme can launch a kitty career
The Cheezburger Network is one of the largest social humor sites on the Internet and is THE place to showcase cat videos and cat memes. Want to make a meme, starring your cat? It’s easy and free at Imgur.com. Emily Huh, Director of Business Development at Cheezburger had this to share with users who want to submit content and see it rise to the top:
- “We mainly get our cat content from user submissions. Users will send in their cat pictures/cat videos to us and we’ll filter through to find the funniest. We also supplement trending content from various sources like different cat blogs.”
- “When someone submits a LOL to our site, it doesn’t automatically get published. To get on the home page, we look at the image or video to make sure it’s appropriate for the site and see if the sense of humor will resonate with our audience.”
- “People can share their LOL with their friends and family (you get a link to a single post page after creating or submitting a picture) and if something does get more thumbs up or social media shares, that will help our Editors take notice and the LOL will have a higher chance of making it to the home page.” So make sure to promote your meme to your own family and friends and social media pages as soon as your meme is live.
Fame begets fame: The Cat Pack
Animalist, one of the Discovery Digital Networks from Discovery Communications, is home to such famous internet cats as Lil Bub, Pudge, Hamilton the Hipster Cat, Cole the Black Cat and the belated (and much beloved) Colonel Meow. These Internet feline sensations form The Cat Pack and each has his or her own show. James Williams, Executive Producer for Animalist tells us how they discover “cat talent” and what it takes to be a Cat Pack member.
- How are cat stars discovered? Do you look at how many hits they receive on YouTube/Facebook/Other? Do they have agents you? “At Animalist, we’re HUGE fans of cats, so all the Cat Pack cats were on our radar well before we started working with them. In each case, we saw a big opportunity for compelling programming and growth in popularity, so we reached out to them directly.”
- Do you film your shows at a studio or at the owners’ homes? “Each show is different and depends entirely on where the cats are most comfortable. In some cases, they rarely leave their owner’s homes; in other cases, they’re completely fine being out and about and on set. It’s all about keeping the cats happy, safe and relaxed.”
- Do you expect your cat stars to make public appearances? Or to be held/petted by strangers? “This is entirely up to the cats and their owners. You can’t negotiate with a cat, so if they don’t like being in public we aren’t going to ask them to be in public. Same goes for being held – we don’t ask the owners to compromise the happiness of their cats. At the end of the day, most people are exposed to the cats online – so making sure we’re putting up great content is our main priority.”
- Do the cats’ owners get paid? Or is the payment simply the exposure? “We don’t disclose terms of our partnerships with any talent, including cats.” Hmm, maybe that question was too purrsonal.
Have you thought about making your cat an Internet star?