On Sunday, the British tabloid The Daily Express made headlines the world over with its report that Internet meme sensation Grumpy Cat (née Tardar Sauce) had earned approximately $100 million since fall of 2012, when a picture on Reddit kicked of a whirlwind transformation that quickly turned a then-unassuming household cat into an established Internet celebrity.
While Tabatha Bundesen, Grumpy Cat's owner, has since called The Daily Express report "completely inaccurate" (she declined to reveal her cat's actual earnings) it's safe to assume that frown-y feline has amassed a small fortune. After all, the past couple years have been insanely busy ones for Grumpy Cat: There's the line of licensed merchandise, two books, and a just-released Lifetime TV movie (Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever), plus frequent appearances on talk shows, including The Today Show and Good Morning America.
From its inception, the Internet was made for the ogling of cute animals. That part hasn't changed, but just as with human YouTube stars, over the past few years a burgeoning rank of pet A-listers has begun to emerge out of the endless sea of no-name (if adorable) kittens/dogs/guinea pigs, etc. prancing it up on social media. Grumpy Cat's manager Ben Lashes -- who has made a career out of managing famous cats (other clients include Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat) – recently made this human celebrity comparison explicit, telling Spin: "These cats will be respected like real-pop cultural icons and that's cool."
Starting with Grumpy Cat (the Justin Bieber of the bunch?), here are five animal social media sensations who have managed to translate online fame into offline deals.
Grumpy Cat's permanently unimpressed expression can be attributed to the fact that she was born with feline dwarfism, which gives her a noticeable underbite.
For now, we don't know exactly how much Grumpy Cat has racked up over the past couple years, but even if it's not $100 million, it's definitely up there.
Let's break it down:
- 16 million views on YouTube
- 7 million followers on Facebook
- 500,000 followers on Instagram
- Multiple licensed product lines (including one for plush toys, one for iced coffee beverages and one for merchandise including T-shirts, phone cases and wallpaper)
- 2 books (Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book and The Grumpy Guide to Life: Observations from Grumpy Cat)
- 1 endorsement deal with Friskies cat food
- 1 Lifetime TV Movie (Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, in which Grumpy Cat will be voiced by Aubrey Plaza)
i.e. "the world's cutest dog," Boo is a little Pomeranian with a very fluffy head who, along with his best friend Buddy, has managed to enchant The Entire Internet with his awwww-inspiring antics.
- 16.7 million followers on Facebook
- 500,000 followers on Instagram
- Multiple licensing deals, including with Australian shoe-manufacturer Crocs (Boo Crocs), the Bentex Group (Boo swimsuits), Department 56 (Boo novelty items, including holiday ornaments, mugs and water globes), and Trends International (Boo posters).
- 3 books (Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog, Boo: Little Dog in the Big City, and Boo ABC: A to Z with the World's Cutest Dog)
- 1 licensed product line with plush toy manufacturer Gund (items include Boo slippers, ear muffs and purses)
- 1 death hoax (courtesy of Gawker writer Sam Biddle, who set off alarm bells when he tweeted 'Boo The Dog Has Died')
- 1 endorsement deal with Virgin America airline (Boo was named both its spokesdog and Official Pet Liaison)
Lil' Bub, the runt of the litter and a rescue, was born with several setbacks, including a bone disorder (for which she takes medication), an extra toe on each foot, an underdeveloped jaw (hence the permanently drooping tongue), and a genetic disorder that makes her a "perma-kitten i.e. she'll stay kitten-sized her entire life. A large percentage of profits from Lil' Bub's merchandise lines goes to animal rescue groups, according to her owner.
- 1.4 million followers on Facebook
- 600,000 followers on Instagram
- Various talk show appearances, including spots on Good Morning America, Today and The View
- Media guest spots, including the YouTube Big Live Comedy Show and Meme'd on The Pet Collective
- 1 independent merchandise line (which sells everything from Lil Bub hoodies, to socks, to nightlights to earrings)
- 1 book (Lil Bub’s Lil Book: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on the Planet)
- 1 documentary (Lil Bub & Friendz, produced by Vice Media)
- 1 talk show (in which Lil Bub, with the help of subtitles, interviews guest including Whoopi Goldberg and fellow-animal celebrity Little Prince, a guinea pig).
Chris P. Bacon
Chris P. Bacon, as you probably guessed, is a pig. He was born without the use of his back legs, and so his owner built him wheel legs out of toys. YouTube videos of Chris P. Bacon learning to walk quickly took the Internet by storm.
- 2 million views on YouTube
- 115,000 followers on Facebook
- Various TV appearances, including spots on the Today show and Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show
- 2 books (Chris P. Bacon: My Life So Far… and How to Roll Like Chris P. Bacon)
- 1 line of T-shirts
- 1 PBS show (My Bionic Pig)
- 1 soon-to-be-released animated film (Chris P Bacon Saves Christmas)
Tuna is a 4 year-old Chiweenie who was found on the side of the road in Los Angeles, and rescued by his current owner. He has a recessed jawline (and thus a noticeable overbite), but instead of holding him back, Tuna's distinctive look charmed Instagram users and made him an Internet celebrity.
- 1.1 million followers on Instagram
- Various television appearances, including spots on the Today show
- Multiple product lines (including T-shirts, mugs and posters)
- 1 book deal (the soon-to-be-released The Underdog with the Overbite)
- 1 East Coast tour (sponsored by BarkBox!; Tuna visited eight cities in 24 days