Are NFTs The Cat’s Meow?

In the early days of social media memes and YouTube, cat videos were one of the first categories of content to go mainstream. The same phenomenon seems to be happening to a certain extent with NFTs, as the number of cat-related NFT collections is large and expanding, and several have broken through as success stories.

Their presence in the licensing business has been slim to date, with a couple of exceptions, but most offer merchandise through their own websites and the leading print-on-demand sites. Licensing, collaborations, and/or branded merchandise (for members only or for wide release) are also typically mentioned as key components of their roadmaps for maintaining value and longevity over time. Plans also call for activities such as branded metaverses, interactive games, and TV series or films, as well as fresh NFT drops.

Some (of many) examples of cat-related NFT collections that have attracted attention so far include:

  • Cool Cats. As the producers of Cool Cats and Cool Pets NFTs, based on artist Colin Egan’s long-running Blue Cat character, Cool Cats is at the forefront of licensing activity in this sector. It signed CAA as its representative for licensing, animated content, brand partnerships, publishing, and live events, in March of this year. Shortly after that, it announced a deal with Toikido for Blue Cat plush and other Cool Cats products, including exclusive drops for the Cool Cats community. The brand has established a virtual gaming system/metaverse called Cooltopia and has partnered with Time magazine, among other ventures.
  • The Gutter Cat Gang. Premiering with 3,000 NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain, this property has since extended its brand into Gutter Rats, Gutter Dogs, and other permutations, all to be contained in the Gutterverse it is building. Its digital partnerships include The Sandbox and Crypto Slam, among others. On the merchandising front, its activities have focused on streetwear collaborations. Partners to date have included Jugrnaut, a Chicago boutique featuring hip-hop and skate-culture-related designer apparel lines, and Diamond Supply Co., the Nicky Diamonds-led skate and streetwear brand, for t-shirts and a sweater and hoodie.
  • Stoner Cats. Backed by actress Mila Kunis, Stoner Cats was introduced with a collection of 10,420 NFTs, each of which unlocks lifetime access to all current and future content based on the brand, including the initial episodes of a short-form, 2D-animated series, which were available at launch. Sales of the branded NFTs dictate how much new content is developed, and each new character created for the series in turn opens up 1,000 more NFTs for sale. The brand roadmap includes physical collectibles for randomly drawn NFT holders, as well as merchandise such as mugs, caps, and t-shirts. NFT holders will have a say in the development of both the products and content.
  • Nyan Cat. The Pop Tart-like, rainbow-trailed flying cat is one of the Internet’s old-school memes, debuting a decade ago. Creator Chris Torres entered the NFT space by auctioning his original meme art as an NFT that went for close to $600,000 in fall 2021 on the art platform Foundation. That sale has been followed by 700 new NFTs based on the same character. Youtooz sells a vinyl figurine of Nyan Cat that launched in November 2020 (before the first NFT sale), and Torres has had conversations in the past few years about a possible animated series. The property had a toy and collectibles deal with Jakks Pacific back in its heyday, with the first products launching in 2012.
  • Jungle Cats. Introduced on Solana in October 2021 with 5,500 NFTs, the property centers on lions and lionesses. A playable jungle eco-system will allow fans to use their avatars to unlock new stages and experiences. The goal is to build a brand that encompasses games, short films, and a branded, eco-friendly clothing line.
  • Rich Cats Nation. RCN began as a limited collection of 1,000 NFT tokens residing on the Binance blockchain. A range of official merchandise is sold on the website, with the operators noting that royalties go back to designers of individual cats. The brand is based in Malaysia.
  • Big Cats. This collection launched an initial group of 5,000-plus NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. Plans include a metaverse for the Big Cats community, which numbered over 250,000 shortly after the first drop; charitable donations to support big cats in the real world; social media content; use of the NFTs in a dedicated world as well as the broader metaverse; and merchandise, including apparel, for the community only.
  • Dope Cats. Its first collection launched with 3,333 NFTs on the Solana network. For members of its community, called the Dope Club, it offers, or plans to offer, exclusive events, free promotional NFTs, giveaways, competitions, and merchandise. Its NFTs are playable in several different metaverses.
  • Cat People. With an initial collection of 9,999 NFTs launching this year, the brand features 3D-animated characters inspired by pop culture, streetwear, and gaming. The NFTs reside in a metaverse that encourages creation and community. Exclusive, limited-edition merchandise drops for members are part of the offering.
  • Tubby Cats. A collection of 20,000 NFTs in 120 themed palettes, housed on Ethereum, this property recently held a live event in Brooklyn, New York, which was free for Tubby Cats NFT holders and a plus-one, and open to others for a general admission fee. The experience included an open bar, dancing, and activities, with a range of branded merchandise available on-site.

Some of the many other cat-related collections to keep an eye on include Samurai Cats, from Japanese artist Hiro Ando and backed by DJ and fashion designer Steve Aoki; Funky Cats, a series of pixelated cat designs on OpenSea; IamaKittyCat, a series of 3D-animated, photo-real cats created by Carrie Tatsu, a Second Life creator, and animated by Massimo Righi; Sphinx Cats on Open Sea, based on the Canadian hairless cat, with at least 10,000 versions created to date; and Nekos on Ethereum, a collection of what are meant to be the cutest cat NFTs available. It should be noted that one of the first-ever success stories in the NFT world was CryptoKitties, an NFT collectible game from Dapper Labs.

It is not yet known if the still-emerging NFT space will grow the way social media memes and YouTube content have since the height of the original cat meme/cat video period. The NFT market is currently facing some well-documented challenges in terms of trademark violations and theft, as well as plummeting values for some of the big-name brands. IP owners continue to jump into the space, but many do not yet have clear business objectives for their participation, aside from the desire to be an early adopter in order to strike while the iron is hot, position themselves for future success, or meet fan expectations.

That said, NFTs are likely to continue to provide value to consumers and IP owners. The latter include both those entering the NFT market as an ancillary business and those, like the examples listed above, that have roots in NFTs and are expanding their brands beyond that sector. To succeed long-term, however, IP owners of both types will have to have a clear reason for being, be able to keep fans involved and interested, and find a way to thoughtfully expand the brand beyond the NFT space over time.

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