Brand Management Success Story – “I Can Has” Branding Success?

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There is really no other way to say it: Sometimes the weirdest things become branding superstars. For example, begun as a trend on assorted forums and message boards, humorously captioned pictures of felines made $2 million in 2007.

Yes, you heard that correctly! Pictures of cats in amusing poses with badly-mangled English captions in the vein of “I can has cheezburger?” or “Y dat fud on fyr?” proved so popular that the most central blog hosting them was purchased by an investing company for a cool $2 million. A young man in Hawaii, along with his girlfriend, started the blog as a part time, casual activity.

It’s truly the kind of story you can’t make up.

Today, the Cheezburger network is a very successful web-based brand. People can use the shorthand associated with the site, and “LoLCats” have been featured on several news networks and hardcover books. LoL-oriented clothing articles have been produced and sold, and the site continues to expand its influence by adopting new domains into its control. Not a bad start for something that began as a joke on the Internet. So what exactly are some of the things the Cheezburger Network is doing right?

Brand Vitality

The Cheezburger website has not remained stagnant in its efforts to bring the joys of feline laughter to the world. Almost immediately, a spinoff site – “I can has hotdog?” – was associated with the network. This followed the fairly obvious step of including humorous canines in the mix, but sometimes the obvious step is the most important one that companies end up neglecting.

The network has further diversified its assets, remaining vital. It recently included the FAILblog (a very popular site that showcases instances of ironic failure, like pictures of a posted “no seagulls” sign on which a seagull has landed) in its efforts. Other sites include Very Demotivational, Funny Engrish (a site focusing on foreign language to English mistranslations) and “happy chair is happy” (which looks for “faces” in everyday objects).

All of these efforts focus on the same central theme of an image and text juxtaposed for humorous effect, and each follows the doctrine of 100 percent user-submitted content. But they are all subtly different and cater to a related yet different market of audience. This both brings in wholly new audiences to the network and allows for cross-pollination between markets, as it’s likely the fans of one site also will appreciate at least some of the others.

Furthermore, the site has published physical collections of some of its work for sale in bookstores, and clothing articles available in its own online store. This indicates a commitment to a diversity of assets, and shows that every brand can branch out in many directions.

User Focus

As mentioned above, the content on the Cheezburger Network is user-contributed. In the original iteration of the LoLCat phenomenon, users captioned their own photos in home editing programs and uploaded them to the site. Realizing that the more pictures they had, the more successful they would be, the site included a new measure intended to make the process easier for the users. They implemented a builder that would allow users to input the text, font style and location on the picture on which they wished it to appear.

This simple attempt to reduce the workload, coupled with the later feature of offering users the chance to caption random uncaptioned pictures, shows a commitment to embracing the user-centric ideology that defines the modern web. The audience has much more input, and some people will submit a dozen entries in one day in the hopes that theirs ends up on the front page. This, of course, increases traffic and creates an excess of product that the network can enjoy.

Parallel Products and Open Minds

The LoL phenomenon has spawned some unusual side products, as well. Given that certain words have constantly popped up in most of the pictures, and that a certain “grammar” seemed to be consistent, linguistic students came up and ran with the idea of creating an actual language out of this project. Thus was born the constructed language LoLSpeak. One might readily discount it, but it’s been submitted as a class project in some cases, and there is a serious effort underway to translate the King James Bible into LoLSpeak.

There are other projects as well. For example, LoLCode, a programming language based on LoLSpeak, also has been developed.

Now, in an age when intellectual property is protected as zealously as national treasures, one might not fault the Cheezburger network for perhaps discouraging this kind of activity. After all, it brings them no profit, and it is a use of their IP. But instead, the network has embraced and encouraged these projects, bringing them directly on board with advice and sometimes even web space. The owners of the site recognize that, once again, their product is incredibly audience-based and user-generated. By encouraging these side projects, they increase their own visibility and gain a reputation for user friendliness as well, thus cementing their brand’s powerful place in the hearts of pet lovers, idiocy watchers and linguistic students everywhere.

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