Pets are big business. People don’t just like cute animals, they adore them. And if those pets are promoting a brand on a social media platform, fans of that dog, cat or small animal tend to remember those products. There’s a term for this—it’s called “animal influencer.”
And considering that, according to the American Pet Products Association, spending on pets is expected to surpass the $67 billion mark for 2016, it should come as no surprise that animal influencers have piqued the interest of big brands.
These pampered pets often enjoy a level of social media fame that’s reserved for human celebrities, and they can even bring their owners real revenue through partnerships with big brands like Purina, Pizza Hut and Procter & Gamble.
Pets of all categories are popping up on media outlets like BuzzFeed and Daily Mail, and many feline Instagram accounts, among the most notable being Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat, are filled with sponsored posts for major brands like Friskies, Mercedes and GoPro. Lil Bub has his own weather app and a line of watches, while Grumpy Cat starred in his own TV movie, “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” in 2014.
Then there is the story of a French bulldog named Chloe. Owned by Loni Edwards, a lawyer turned entrepreneur, Chloe’s Instagram account went from pedestrian to prominent, with the dog becoming an internet sensation. Chloe has been featured in publications like Vogue and Martha Stewart. She has also collaborated with fashion manufacturer Donni Charm for her own line of dog scarves.
After noticing the impact social media pet superstars have on people, Edwards launched a New York-based talent agency for internet pet influencers called The Dog Agency.
The website for The Dog Agency reads, “We handpick and cultivate the best talent to create premium content that appeals to fans and brands alike, as well as strategically connect the dots and streamline the collaboration process between our celebrity animal clients, brands and media.”
The list of outlets The Dog Agency has worked with for its clients includes “The Today Show,” The Huffington Post, along with such companies as Google, Dyson, 20th Century Fox, Merck and Nikon.
Edwards is not alone in jumping on the internet pet craze, as there are several other management agencies that play matchmaker between pet influencers and everything from small fashion boutiques to major corporations. These agencies, such as Socialfly and HelloSociety, broker deals with brands to have their products conspicuously shown with these animals on social media posts. The agencies take a commission and the animal goes on to parlay their internet stardom into monetization.
Stacey Reiner, founder of New York City-based Remarkable Brands, used her 20 years of experience in the consumer products industry to create the licensing/branding agency four years ago. Last month she added her first non-human client, an easygoing pup known to people around the world as simply “Doug the Pug.”
“I started as a fan of Doug’s social media,” Reiner said of the 4-year-old pooch who, since being adopted in 2012 from an Ohio-based breeder by his owner, Leslie Mosier, has amassed 8 million social media followers. “It was something that I was impressed with, so he became my first animal client.
“Credit has to go to the Doug the Pug team. They have two to three social media posts a week,” she added. “They’re constantly up to date on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He’s always in the moment. They do seasonal posts and posts based on things that are in the public eye. He’s fun and relatable to his followers.”
Once Reiner became Doug’s worldwide licensing agent, she said she is now examining the consumer products possibilities—namely T-shirts, slippers and kids products, as well as product lines for pets. She is currently communicating with various manufacturers and retailers to carry the product lines.
“We hope to have products by the end of the year, for the winter holidays, and even some by this summer,” she explained.
Numbers don’t lie. According to an April 2016 Wall Street Journal article, social media influencers can expect to earn approximately $3,000 per sponsorship deal when they hit 150,000 social media followers. If a dog surpasses a million followers, it can net $10,000 for a single post.
Compare that to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report for the fourth quarter of 2016, which found that men and women between the ages of 25 and 34 make a median weekly salary of $801 and $710 per week, respectively.
While pet owners can’t expect to generate a massive amount of revenue from their pet’s social media popularity, it’s not impossible. Take the case of Chloe Kardoggian. Her owner, Dorie Herman of Jersey City, New Jersey, has had her Chloe’s name trademarked, obtained an LLC and even obtained a tax identification for her pup.
What do companies seek in a pet for product placement or an endorsement? According to Daniel Koehler, senior account executive, marketing public relations for Nestle Purina PetCare, it’s personality.
“There are so many different brands, so many different voices and personalities,” he said. “It’s one thing that’s great about the social media landscape. We can find a pet and mirror it with what our brands embody.”
Koehler has been with Nestle Purina since 2011, a few years after the company started its involvement in partnerships with social media influencers. As he put it, they created his position because “the company wanted to make a bigger play in that field. It wanted to examine the impact of social media influencers, so we built up a history of best practices.”
“It’s not something that’s forced,” Koehler explained. “We want to make it relationship focused. What we do works because it’s a relationship that’s genuine, authentic and not based on monetary issues.”
Part of Koehler’s duties include identifying influencers, vetting them and forming a strategy. Although Friskies receives a lot of attention for its association with Grumpy Cat, Purina also has relationships with social media pets through its Beneful, Pro Plan and Beggin’ brands.
In 2016, Pro Plan put together its Pro Plan Extraordinary Men & Cats calendar, with 2017 featuring a focus on what Koehler calls “adventure cats.” Beggin’, meanwhile, is a popular brand for connecting with social media dogs.
“Beggin’ has a lighthearted tone so it’s perfect for fun posts” Koehler explained regarding what makes it a hit with social me
dia platforms like Instagram. “Beggin’ works best with an account with humor in its posts. It works with pet owners sharing hilarious moments with their dog through that treating moment.”
Pets can become an internet sensation with just a single viral video or photo post. Pet Age decided to profile five dogs that represent the next wave of up-and-coming Instagram stars.
Ramsey – @bluestaffy
When people first see Ramsey, they’d never guess that the stocky, muscular Staffordshire bull terrier was the runt of his litter. But he was, according to Jason Ashley, who bought him from a breeder in September 2012, when Ramsey was 7 weeks old.
“I saw his dad and loved him,” he recalled. “He was well behaved for a dog his size, and he was very intelligent as well. When I got Ramsey, the blue was considered a unique color at the time.”
Ashley, who lives in Surrey, England, acknowledges that he’s always been a fan of Staffordshire bull terriers, and his passion for the breed started when he watched a film called “Jock of the Bushveld.” He first owned a staffy mix (a rescue dog named Bam) when he was 12 and living in Greece.
It was obvious to Ashley that there was something special about Ramsey. With plenty of exercise, tra
ining and a diet that included only raw dog food and treats from Nutriment, the blue staffie has filled out into an impressive, if not imposing, show dog and model.
Little did Ashley know what he was starting when he posted photos of his 4-month-old staffie on his Instagram account at the end of 2012. A little over four years later, a glimpse of Ramsey on Instagram reveals that he has 170,000 followers.
Yet it’s easy to see what makes him a social media influencer and a celebrity in and around London. People can’t seem to get enough of watching his muscles flex as he sprints across a field in a video or seeing him wear an ear-to-ear grin as he stares into the camera for a photo.
“He appeals to so many people in America,” he said. “He’s got something for everyone. He’s got the masculine body, so that appeals to health fanatics. He has a cute face and a good smile. He even looks really cute when he’s wrapped up in bed.”
Whether he’s playing with a Nerf or Chuckit! toy, donning one of his Hurtta outdoor jackets or rolling around the floor in a Dogrobe dog drying coat, Ramsey exudes personality. It doesn’t take long to realize there’s not just one side to Ramsey. There’s an emotion in his eyes, ranging from contentment to curiosity or innocence to youthful exuberance.
In fact, the staffie’s profile image is a cartoon likeness of the staffie wearing a shower cap. That might be why companies such as Dyson, Natures Menu and Silent Night have had Ramsey endorse their products. He’s modeled for web ads for Crufts, EzyDog and BarkBox.
Ramsey’s even had an impact in the animal welfare sector, becoming an official ambassador for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
“He helps out the image of pit bulls,” Ashley said. “We do a lot of work with the RSPCA, which is the biggest animal charity in Europe.”
Ramsey and his owner were invited to the 2016 Animal Heroes Awards, which was attended by many celebrities, including Queen guitarist Brian May and British comedian Paul O’Grady.
“I was in awe that they felt he deserved to be invited to such a prestigious event,” Ashley admitted.
He has big plans for Ramsey’s future, including one that involves the staffie making a difference in the lives of people.
“He’s not certified as a therapy dog, but I hope to start the process when he’s older,” Ashley said. Based on Ramsey’s current popularity, he is sure to flourish in that new role.
Tinkerbelle – @tinkerbellethedog
Her name is Tinkerbelle, and the 5-year-old papitese (a mix of papillon and maltese) has been photographed with top fashion models, designers and countless celebrities. Her fur, which shines thanks to being bathed with Burt’s Bees shampoo, is meticulously groomed on a regular basis. And when in public, she will always be wearing top-of-the-line accessories, such as a Henri Bendel collar and a Mendota Products leash.
However, the precocious pup’s story began in 2012, when Sam Carrell, a professional dancer and actress, adopted the cute canine from a Long Island, New York, animal shelter when it was just 2 months old. Or as Carrell would describe it, “she picked me.”
“She was my first animal, because of allergy reasons,” recalled Carrell, who admitted she was immediately smitten with the pup that weighted less than a pound. “But I knew we belonged together. After she came home with me, I’d walk her through the city to socialize her. One day, an animal agent stopped me and asked if she could work with Tink.”
That led to Tinkerbelle being part of Ralph Lauren’s “The Dog Walk” fashion campaign with shelter dogs in 2013. According to Carrell, David Lauren (the designer’s son) saw something in Tinkerbelle, and he included the dog in nearly every shot. This resulted in the papitese becoming the face of the campaign. Soon, her image was on buses, posters and billboards throughout the city.
Carrell created Tinkerbelle’s Instagram account in 2013 and, since then, her posts often feature the peppy pup dressed in an endless array of stylish pet fashion—from tutus to bow ties—and posing with stars of the big screen, small screen and music scene. The immaculately-groomed girl has caught the public’s attention, accumulating nearly 120,000 Instagram followers. With her newfound popularity, she’s taken part in numerous modeling shoots, including those for iconic fashion designers such as Vivian Hu and Christie Raules.
She has also starred in several TV commercials and attended numerous store and salon openings. What’s more, she even appeared alongside Tony Award nominee Sally Mayes in a production of “Gypsy” as Rose’s dog, Chowsie.
Sam says Tink’s most memorable modeling moment came in 2015, when the pup walked the runway at Betsey Johnson’s final fashion show after celebrating her label’s 50th anniversary.
Tink has even been spotted at several exclusive, celeb-only parties, thanks in part to her winning a 2016 Webby award. When it comes to brand partnerships, Tinkerbelle has been associate
d with a long list of products, including Purina, Swiffer, Febreze and Rachael Ray’s Nutrish.
Carrell’s life appears to revolve around Tinkerbelle’s busy schedule. If she’s not driving Tink around the Tri-State area, such as for recent appearances at New York Fashion Week, Carrell is flying around the country for photo and video shoots. A friend of Carrell’s, Gina Naomi Baez, who has appeared in the popular TV series “Orange Is The New Black,” often includes the striking pup in the vocalist’s YouTube music videos.
What does Carrell think of owning a pet that she admits is recognized on an almost daily basis?
“I might be a little jealous but I’m accepting of it,” she said. “I’d love to be in a film with her. We almost had a chance to do a film together. We even went to a wardrobe fitting, but then they rewrote the script and we got cut out of it.”
But Sam is not giving up hope on it, adding that “it would be an awesome dream come true.”
Rambo – @rambothepuppy
What’s not to love about Rambo? He’s not only a handsome 3-year-old dog–thanks to a combination of Petology shampoo/conditioner, JW Pet brushes and regular visits to a groomer every six to eight weeks—he’s also renown for wearing a red pet bowtie on his collar as well as some form of stylish apparel from Fab Dog, a high-quality dog clothing line.
Rambo is a pint-sized pooch that lives in North Carolina with his pet owner, who requested to remain anonymous to protect her privacy. He was born to a breeder in 2012 before he was given to his owner by her then-boyfriend as a gift on, of all occasions, Tax Day.
“My ex-boyfriend put this idea into my mind that I needed a puppy, and that it either had to be a yorkie poo or some similar dog,” she reminisced. “So he bought Rams for me.”
Rambo was just 11 weeks old and had that special something, his owner noticed. She decided to share his cuteness with her family and friends in May 2012, when she started a Facebook page for him. By 2014, Rambo’s page had more than 300,000 Facebook likes.
“I was so focused on his Facebook page that I didn’t invest a ton of effort into Rambo’s Instagram account until the end of 2014,” she admitted. “But now his Instagram audience is growing consistently, albeit slow and steady.”
Rambo’s Instagram followers, which number more than 24,000, are treated to photos of the little lovebug posing with a “baconrita” (a catchy term for a doggy drink created by his owner) or dressed to impress. One key to his Instagram success, his owner believes, is how his posts feature captions that are in Rambo’s “voice.”
“He sneaks in cute phrases like ‘mother pupper’ and ‘what the pup’ into his captions,” she said. “Another thing that Rambo’s fans and followers like, and what makes his content so appealing, is that I, the ‘human,’ don’t appear in photos or have a voice on his page. By staying anonymous and making his posts all about him, I think I’ve made his storyline more believable. His page is all about him.”
With an owner who is an influence marketing manager, it’s no surprise that Rambo is a social butterfly who has been getting noticed by major brands. According to his owner, Rambo regularly attends pet expos and events like the Wayfair Heart Home conference for bloggers and influencers. He’s even a member of the Wayfair Pet Squad, an honor that includes his very own profile on Wayfair’s website.
He’s modeled for several brands and been the subject of digital content and videos, website headers and native ads. His spotlight moment thus far has been his appearance in a TV commercial for Stainmaster in 2015.
“We did a total of three photo shoots with the company,” Rambo’s owner explained. “They loved Rambo so much that they featured him on the front of their carpet squares box. They jumped at the chance to extend our relationship into promoting their brand via his social media channels.”
However, his owner makes sure to not only keep Rambo grounded—after all, he’s still a dog who adores bully sticks and Full Moon Chicken Jerky treats–but to also use his influence for charitable causes.
“Most recently we partnered with Toyota to go on a weekend adventure in a brand new RAV4, which I decided would focus on collecting and purchasing donations for a local SPCA and delivering them to the rescue center,” Rambo’s owner said.
Otter – @otterthepitbull
“Otter” is not an ordinary name for a mixed breed pit bull, but that’s appropriate for a dog that is anything but ordinary, according to his owner, Leslie O’Neill. Thanks to his unique qualities, the 8-year-old dog’s become a mini celebrity in the U.S. and overseas, as well.
O’Neill, who is a volunteer with Philadelphia’s Animal Care Control Team, explains that she was fostering kittens in 2010, when she and her boyfriend (now husband) contemplated fostering a dog.
“It was Pit Bull Awareness Day in Philadelphia, and Otter was one of the dogs that they had at the event,” O’Neill said. “That was the day I met him. He was sick and weighed just over 30 pounds. I saw him with a dinosaur hat on his head, because he would wear anything. And I noticed that he fell asleep standing up.”
While attending the event, she learned his name was Otter, which was given to him by the animal control team that took him in after police found him wandering the streets of southwest Philadelphia. It didn’t take long for O’Neill to decide to foster him, and she took him home.
She quickly discovered th
at Otter would sleep nearly 22 hours a day, a result veterinarians told her was due to depression, parasites and injury to his paw and leg. With a healthy diet of Natural Balance dry dog food mixed with Beggin’ Strips treats, Otter recovered from his ailments and, although he was briefly made available for adoption while O’Neill fostered him, it didn’t take long for her to fall for the 18-month-old mutt.
“He became my foster failure,” she happily confessed with the humorous term for people who foster a pet that’s being prepared for adoption, but who ultimately adopt it themselves. “There’s something about him. Maybe it’s his facial expression. He’s ridiculous.”
Otter is also gentle, both with people and other pets. He doesn’t jump on the people he meets, an instinct that has gone a long way in O’Neill’s neighborhood. She and her family (she and her husband have a 1-year-old son) have met a lot of people who are wary of pit bulls, but Otter has helped change their attitude, she explains.
“He’s excellent with small children, so much so that kids come over to ask, ‘Can Otter come out and play?” O’Neill laughed. “He just loves people. He really likes tall men, and he would always sit down when he sees a lady. And he gets along with our cats.”
Although he’s always ready to play with his Kong Extreme, O’Neill describes Otter as a big mush (he presently weighs more than 60 pounds) that enjoys having his nails trimmed so much that he lies down and falls asleep snoring before his grooming session is finished.
“He’s just silly and lets everything hang out,” O’Neill giggled. “He’s a character. He’s derpy.”
It’s on Instagram where Otter’s derpiness is fully on display. O’Neill posts the full gamut of her dog’s lovability. Photos show Ollie relaxing on his Territory bed or with his human family, posing in one of his Chilly Dog sweaters or taking a bath in the family tub, with eyes that cry out for a hug.
Otter has accumulated 15,500 Instagram followers, and that number is steadily climbing. Thanks to that popularity, he has received several honors, including being named a positive “Pit Bull Ambassador” by Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia. He’s also been the star of reports from Animal Planet, The Huffington Post and Daily Mail, where he was the subject of a piece promoting positive pit bull awareness, which is a big topic in the UK.
Sid – @myregalbeagle
How unique is Sid? Well, better known as “MyRegalBeagle,” the pooch ran for mayor in his home town of Austin, Texas, in 2015. Although he didn’t win, the lab-basset-beagle-corgi mix is still considered the unofficial “Austin dog mayor,” claims his owner, Alex Hopes.
“We received an email from the mayor’s office that there would be an event to recognize Sid,” Hopes recalled. “But it never happened.”
That’s not a big deal to Hopes, who feels Sid has changed his life since entering his life while Hopes was attending college in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2010. According to Hopes, a friend of his approached him with the offer to get a 6-week-old puppy that was being forced to live in a business because its owner couldn’t keep him at his apartment.
“He said, ‘I know you’re looking to get a dog,’ which was completely untrue,” laughed Hopes, who added that when he saw the awkward-looking pup, he knew they were meant to be together. “I’ve been obsessed with him since that day. It was his personality that did it. I was 21 and in college, and he was the catalyst for my photography career.”
Hopes started the “@MyRegalBeagle” Instagram account (named after Sid’s “regal” facial expression) in 2013 as a way to share Sid with the world. There were the usual photos of the dog laying on a couch, interacting with other dogs and wearing sunglasses or a cute costume. Then it was one photo—the “pizza shot” as Hopes calls it—that went viral.
“His account had 25,000 followers before it, then it gained another 40,000 from that shot,” he reminisced.
Today, there are 100,000 followers who view and comment on posts that feature the barrel-chested dog with the droopy face. Hopes takes most of his photos of Sid in and around his home in Austin, and is a regular at Austin’s Zilker Park, where he photographs dogs for his business.
However, Sid’s stardom nearly didn’t happen. Life changed for both he and his owner in spring 2014, when Hopes was planning to relocate to Croatia with his dog later that summer. After selling most of his belongings, Hopes was packing his car late one night when he realized Sid wasn’t with him. He soon discovered Sid, lying in the street and covered in blood, apparently the result of being hit by a motor vehicle.
After a passerby drove them to an emergency vet clinic, where Hopes learned that his beloved beagle mix had four broken ribs, punctured lungs, a herniated diaphragm and a cut spleen. The tale has a happy ending, as Sid pulled through and has made a full recovery. The medical bills reached $10,000, according to Hopes, but some of that was covered by donations from the dog’s social media fans, who watched him recuperate via videos and photos (some of which are graphic) posted on Instagram.
Sid has bounced back since the accident, returning to the form that made him a rising star. He continues to appear in videos with a food item between his lips, be it bacon, a burger, hot dog or even a carrot. He can even be seen in photos with pet products ranging from PrideBites toys and clothing to Heritage Ranch food products by H-E-B. For a special occasion, he breaks out his pizza bow tie by zee dog.
Sid is starring in a video for Insurance Zebra that’s currently on the main page of the company’s website. His popularity even reached the national level when Sid appeared in a Domino’s Pizza commercial featuring Sarah Hyland (of “Modern Family” fame) in 2015.
When it comes to social media pet influencers, none are tougher than Sid.