It’s easy to experience what I call Famous Feline Fatigue. Much like with prefab pop starlets, we see the stars’ adorable faces suddenly slapped on t-shirts, tote bags, cereal boxes, and cappuccinos. With Grumpy Cat’s 15 minutes of fame nearly two years in the making and a holiday special behind her, it’s safe to say she isn’t going away soon — and neither is Lil Bub, the alleged space alien/permakitten who landed in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2011 and immediately had the Internet in the palm of her six-toed paw.
I think both cats are great — I mean, look at those faces! — but I also believe that certain aspects of marketing and presentation will cause Bub’s celebrity star to outshine Grumpy’s in the long run. Here are a few reasons.
There’s something about the twinkle in Bub’s otherworldly eyes that inspires a sense of wonder when you look at one of her gorgeously staged and often surprising Facebook photos. The images play on Bub’s curiosity and enthusiasm for life, creating a mood as opposed to a one-off meme. People not only want to share these images, they want to save them for later.
Grumpy also has a distinctive countenance — in fact, her perpetual scowl should be the dictionary definition for “resting bitch face.” But her meme repertoire has a single note: “It’s awful, and I hate it.” Much like the cranky cousin at Christmas dinner whose wry witticisms quickly get old, Grumpy can be predictable and even feel a bit lazy.
One of the sweetest parts of Bub’s online presence is her relationship with her self-proclaimed “dude,” Mike Bridavsky. He’s Bub’s promoter, assistant, advocate, and best friend — in an interview with Catster, he said that regardless of his cat’s rising star, he’s “just excited to come home and get to hang out with Bub all the time.” He even has a Bub tattoo on his arm. No matter how famous Bub gets, we trust Bridavsky would never exploit her for financial gain.
Without adding to speculation of Grumpy’s exploitation following the release of her Lifetime special, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, it is fair to say that at many of her public appearances, the cat looks like she wants nothing more than to take a nap.
Grumpy’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, is also far less of a public presence than Bridavsky — which isn’t to say she loves Grumpy any less than Bridavsky loves Bub, but it does generate fewer warm and fuzzy feelings when coupled with reports that Grumpy has earned Bundesen millions in two years.
Naturally, a face like Bub’s is destined to generate some income. Her cartoonishly huge eyes and perpetually exposed pink tongue look great on many items including t-shirts and coffee mugs. But you can feel good about buying from the Bub Store, where almost everything is designed and manufactured by Bub’s dude and his friends. Even better: A portion of proceeds from each sale goes to Lil Bub’s Big Fund for Special-Needs Pets.
By contrast, the products in Grumpy’s store feel generic and mass produced, particularly the bottled “Grumpuccino,” coffee drinks that have nothing to do with the famous feline other than bearing her face on the logo. (Catster did a funny taste-test of the drinks in October 2013.) Even the t-shirts feel like an aesthetic flash in the pan, the kind of thing that, five to 10 years from now, will look as dated as those Tweety Bird shirts everyone bought in the 1990s.
From the beginning, Bub’s presence has been lighthearted and whimsical — take, for example, the recent video of her taking an hourlong nap in front of a crackling fire, or her Facebook page’s claims that she’s a psychic, tour guide, and life coach. Even as Bub’s brand has grown to include a feature-length Vice documentary, books, and a web series, she’s never strayed far from her roots in Bloomington’s punk and DIY communities.
Grumpy, meanwhile, has progressed from simple videos of the cat purring and playing with her owner’s hand — the videos that made us love her — to promos for her product-placement-laden television special. Grumpy may be a star, but she’s also a cat. Grumpy’s marketing team seems to have forgotten that the reason we loved Grumpy in the first place is her unique feline ability to help us transcend the monotony of the daily grind, not to sell us clothing and cars.
What do you think? Does Lil Bub have something on Grumpy Cat? What are your thoughts on the celebrity cat in general? What would you do if your cat suddenly were famous on the web?
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.