Meow Listen Up

At SUCCESS, we often hear from experts in online marketing and social media, people who have their finger on the pulse of the latest trends in selling to a global audience. These folks, like our contributors Chris Brogan and Jason Dorsey, have great advice that can be very useful for the small-business person, but even they will admit there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to optimize your e-marketing.

Well, there may be one exception. Cats, it would seem, are the one thing everybody on the Internet can agree on. First there were the lolcats, harnessed by at least one blog, I Can Has Cheezburger, which compiles meme-ified pictures of cats and other animals. What’s a meme (pronounced meem)? What’s a meme with you? The site which pairs photos of cats with funny captions attracts 500,000 visitors per day, down from a high of 2 million per day in 2008. The project has spun off other Internet sensation blogs, which often feature cats prominently, as well as a TV show. Thanks to advertising revenue, I Can Has Cheezburger has been valued in the millions and has given way to the cat’s recent rise to prominence.

There is perhaps no more eminent social media authority than Mashable, the news blog that tracks the ever-evolving culture of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and their competitors. So it’s no shock they made a splash recently at SXSW in Austin, Texas, with the savvy decision to import Grumpy Cat, the meanest little half-Siamese sensation the web has to offer. Audiences waited through long lines to see speakers such as Al Gore and Elon Musk, but the queue to pose for pictures with a napping Grumpy Cat inside the Mashable house, rivaled them all. At one point, it was reported, fans of the feline waited three hours.

“Mashable has been known for social media,” the blog’s Chief Strategy Officer Adam Ostrow told a SXSW panel audience. “Now we’re known as the people who brought Grumpy Cat.”

History does repeat itself. The ancient Egyptians revered cats—even projecting upon them the earthly form of gods. A few millennia later, the board game Monopoly recently held a Facebook contest to invigorate its brand, and fans chose to add a cat piece, replacing the iron marker, which had been a part of the game since 1935.

Alas, forging a brand really is not as simple as cleaning out a litter box. In 2011, while critics were tearing into the couponing corporation during the quiet period before its IPO, Groupon introduced a snarky spokeskitty to defend itself. Groupon the Cat became a familiar mascot, offering non sequitur commentary on the company’s home page, but never really managed to boost revenue. Two years later, with founder and CEO Andrew Mason now deposed, the introduction of the cat just looks silly.

Unfortunately, cozying up to feline fanatics won’t guarantee any company or CEO nine lives.

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