Using an Internet Meme for Fun and Profit: Lolcats and I Can Has Cheezburger (Case Study)

Did you LOL yet?
Obvious part out of the way: Lolcats are a hugely popular internet meme. If you’re unfamiliar with what an Lolcat is, well it’s actually quite simple. The meme involves combining a photo of a cat with some quirky text to create a humorous image (I included a few in my 50 Viral Images article).

Here’s just one recent Lolcat photo:
Sample LOL Cat
There are an immeasurable number of Lolcat images floating around the web across platforms. If you Google lolcat, you’ll get more than a million results.

Origin of the Lolcat
The Wikipedia entry for Lolcats places their point of origin from 4chan (a popular image-board). The Lolcat meme has spread throughout social networks from MySpace to Digg, through blogs and even received coverage in Time Magazine. People email each other Lolcat photos, users on Digg and Reddit reference them, they are popular on message forums, there are Lolcat Facebook apps, and they appear throughout the blogosphere.

The branding of a hugely popular meme within a blog
The meme itself has clearly stuck around, and one site was quick enough to take advantage of its snowballing popularity: I Can Has Cheezburger


icanhascheezburger.com

The people behind I Can Has CheezBurger have taken “ownership” of the Lolcat as a brand, even if they aren’t the ones who created the idea. I Can Has Cheezburger has built a community and gathered a crowd around the Lolcat phenomenon.

They successfully latched onto something that permeates cultures and niches on the web – almost everyone digs Lolcats.

Monetizing a meme
Silly name aside, I Can Has Cheezburger is easily within the illustrious Technorati top 100 at the time of writing this ranking between two massively popular tech blogs: Ars Technica (the art of technology) and Mashable (the most popular social networking blog):

Their traffic numbers are pretty phenominal as well – showing clearly if you create a successful blog around a meme it can be a big win.

Here’s some traffic stats from I Can Has Cheezburger’s advertising page:

Certainly, they have very nice numbers and demographics to show advertisers and I’m sure they are monetizing the blog and the meme well. You can do something similar, if you can spot something like this coming and successfully ride the wave.

Search trends for the lolcat meme
The Google Trends numbers also paint a nice story about the popularity of “lolcat” as a search term. Stacking up against rickroll, you can see it is a more stable trend:

Notice, neither of these terms had enough search volume to be a blip on the trend tool until nearly 2007. And, while rickroll had a decent peak, lolcat seems to be a bit more stable, noting that perhaps it has more staying power into the future.

The massive rise in popularity of social media certain has enabled memes to spread easily across the web and become a staple in web pop-culture.

Of course, web trends are a fickle thing and can easily fall out of favor. I Can Has Cheezburger is smart though, and has enabled anyone to easily get involved by creating an lolcat generator. It’s a good way to encourage fresh content for their site and draw people into the phenomenon.

Going beyond the Lolcat meme
The people publishing I Can Has Cheezburger aren’t content to rest on their laurels, and have created several other sites within their network.

They leveraged the huge success of I Can Has Cheezburger and the popularity of packaging idiosyncratic text with images to create other focused blogs in several niches:

Clearly they understand how to successfully build a blogging network. Notice how all the sites use a similar layout/design, comment system and social media integration.

Learnings and how you too can take advantage of an internet meme
Creating I Can Has Cheezburger and enabling the Lolcat meme to grow and spread certainly took a great deal of work. The site has a ton of detail, even going as far as creating custom widgets for you to easily share Lolcats with your friends on your blog or social networking page.

To successfully take ownership as the go-to source on the web for something popular, the best way is certainly to be first – but you don’t have to be.

According to the WHO-IS database at Network Solutions, lolcats.com was registered in June of 2006, and icanhascheezburger.com was registered in January of 07. Yet, I Can Has Cheezburger has dominated and continues to grow while lolcats.com remains neutral:

This is a case where better design, usability and smart marketing have let I Can Has Cheezburger be the dominant player in this space. Lolcats.com just doesn’t look as slick and did not integrate the tools necessary to build a community and have viral appeal. It’s clear when you look at both sites why the world has flocked to I Can Has Cheezburger.

If you want to take advantage of an internet meme, for fun or for profit, this is a great one to study further on your own.

If you dig this, check out some other case studies from TheFutureBuzz:

Case Study in Building a Blogging Network: The Daily Network

Case Study – Escapist Magazine / Zero Punctuation: Building Popularity By Teaming Up With An Exceptional Content Creator

A Case Study in Building Buzz in the Blogosphere: Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company