A Star is Born

A Star is Born
A Star is Born
How canine social media influencers are changing the advertising game

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Walking the red carpet in black tie attire. Meeting A-list celebrities. A party at a five-star hotel complete with masseuses and a special bar with handcrafted treats. 

While this sounds like a soiree for Hollywood stars, this is actually how Arne Doodle—a five-year-old dog—celebrated the London premiere of the movie The Secret Life of Pets.

The Shih Tzu-Bichon Frisé cross was one of two special dog guests invited to the premiere, and also got to meet superstar Kevin Hart (who voices the crazy-but-cute bunny, Snowball) at another swanky event leading up to the film’s release. 

“They had a doggy masseuse and costumes for the dogs to try on, and special guest Kevin Hart stopped by to take pics with all of the dogs. That is still one of my favourite dog parties,” says Arne’s owner, April Guthrie. 

Arne also just took part in the rollout of the movie sequel Secret Life of Pets 2. Along with several other dogs, cats, and even a bearded dragon, Universal Studios invited Arne in so they could film his reaction to the new movie trailer. 

Arne is no ordinary pooch. With 23,000 Instagram followers, he’s an “influencer,” one of a growing number of four-legged trendsetters with a large social media presence who are being courted by big brands—and in this case, a movie studio—to harness that clout to share their message and sell products. 

April started out like most pet owners, by taking a ton of pics of Arne when he was a puppy. It was casual, really more for posterity than anything else. But it was a move from London to Los Angeles that prompted her to start posting more regularly on Instagram and, in doing so, developing more of a personal style for her pooch. And that’s really reflected on Arne’s Instagram account: the backgrounds and clothing choices are colourful and diverse, just like the LA life. Her snapshots of Arne posing around town in an array of outfits started gaining traction. Now posting is a part of daily life. 

“My biggest advice is to just try to make your account so enjoyable that people want it to be part of their day, every day.”

Toby Little Dude, a Maltese who has 160,000 Instagram followers, got his start when owner Joyce Chen noticed the posts of her prized pooch were garnering more likes than scenery or anything else. She switched her account over to Toby and offers started rolling in. The first was from a dog product subscription service, who noticed Toby and asked if they could use one of his photos for a New York City subway ad they were running. Most companies now approach her through Instagram directly, or by email.
 


 

She now spends around an hour a day on Instagram. That takes into account taking photos, editing, coming up with a caption and responding to dozens of comments and direct messages. 

“I think it’s a combination of Toby’s signature glasses and his sarcasm,” Joyce says when asked about why she thinks people have fallen for her dog. 

In terms of what makes a compelling post, Joyce says it’s a combination of staying in line with your pet’s personality coupled with an entertaining caption and, naturally, a good-quality photo. Toby Little Dude wears a lot of clothes, and often, a pair of thick-rimmed hipster glasses. 

April shoots for cuteness: “People want cute,” relatability, because people are more likely to respond if they connect to a post, and value, like seeing Arne in a new harness or bandana, hearing about an upcoming event, or seeing him in a location they might like to visit. 

So how much time does she spend on Instagram? “Probably too much,” she laughs. 

“It’s not just time spent engaging with others. It’s also time spent taking photos, browsing the internet for clothes or props, and time going to dog events and parties. At this point I’m pretty committed, but it’s just because I enjoy it so much.”

The Big Business of Pet Influencers

The pet influencer business is, well, big business. Brittany Hennessy, the senior director of influence strategy and talent partnerships at Hearst Digital Media, said influencer marketing will be worth up to a staggering $10 billion by 2020. 

With the average consumer spending the equivalent of 33 days a year on social media, and new technologies like streaming functions and e-commerce abilities, Krystin Lee, Social Media Director at Talk Shop, a leading public relations and digital firm that works with brands and influencers, says that social platforms have become a powerful tool for brands to connect with their consumers in real time. 

And with people going ga-ga for cute dogs on Instagram, those influencers “can help brands expand their reach, engaging with their target audience or expand into new markets or verticals,” she says. 

In terms of brands getting on board, there are lots of companies that seem like a natural fit, like pet food brands, retail stores, and pet sitting and dog walking services, like Rover. 

But in recent years, Krystin says we’re seeing more big brands thinking outside of the box when it comes to using doggy influencers, like Dyson highlighting the hair-removal features of their products, or Ritz-Carlton hotel properties reminding travellers that they are pet friendly. 

“Pets have become an extension of people's families and with so many products and services that accommodate our furry friends, it's no surprise that we've seen this play out in the influencer space,” says Krystin.
 


 

Some of the biggest dog influencers on Instagram currently are JiffPom (9 million followers), Doug the Pug (3.8 million followers), Loki the Wolfdog (2 million followers), Marnie the Dog (1.9 million followers), and Tuna the Chiweenie (2 million followers).

While there is no set minimum amount of followers a pet needs to be considered an influencer, an account with over 2,000 followers—all the way up to 50,000—could be considered a “micro-influencer,” says Krystin.

She says from a brand perspective, these micro-influencers are often more desirable to partner with because they often deliver content that receives a higher amount of likes and comments in relation to their following—otherwise known as the engagement rate—versus those with say, 100,000 followers or more. 

“My biggest advice is to just try to make your account so enjoyable that people want it to be part of their day, every day.”
 

And as that following grows, so does the potential to make social media into a full-time job, and earn a good payday. While smaller-scale doggy influencers start out partnering with smaller companies and brands, sometimes getting paid in free products, pets with huge fan bases have the potential to earn a significant amount of money from premium brands with worldwide audiences. 

“Much like human influencers, rates do vary based on the amount of followers one has but you also have to factor in engagement and the results they can deliver for a brand on a campaign,” says Krystin. 

“Accounts with 100,000 - 200,000 followers can expect to earn a few thousand dollars per Instagram post and those north of a million followers would be looking at tens of thousands of dollars.”

Although it depends on the brand and budget, the average payday for a dog influencer is $100 per 10,000 followers, but that’s just an average, says April.  

Joyce politely declined sharing how much Toby gets paid per post. April says for Arne’s Instagram account, it’s more about having fun and creating engagement and community than making money. 

“If we make any, it’s a nice bonus!” she laughs. 
 


 

Arne does have a relationship with a few brands they “know and trust” like Bark, a dog walking and sitting matchmaking company, and Lucy & Co, a premium dog apparel company. But April strives to not be an account that’s always pushing products on followers. 

April is choosy about which brands she works with, in an effort to keep Arne’s Instagram account relatable and authentic. She doesn’t say yes to everything she’s offered, and won’t post products that feel like a stretch for a pet account, like products for humans. 

“I’m not going to try to incorporate a free watch into a dog post, just to get a free watch. I really try to feature products that my followers will be interested in and fits in with my style of posting,” she says. 

She’s not completely sure where brands find Arne. She uses local hashtags like #dogsofla and hashtags the location as well. If she really likes the brand, she’ll buy their products and try to post the best photos she can featuring them—which may entice them to reach out and partner with her in the future. 

Joyce and Toby have worked with a variety of brands that include home goods, movies, and pet products, including PupStar (the movie), Dyson, and Wayfair. 

For them, authenticity is also key: “We only promote brands and products that we like and believe our followers would also appreciate,” Joyce says. 

In terms of strategies for growing followers, Joyce believes in growing organically: She’s never paid for a sponsored post, but has collaborated with other influencers. 

Slow and steady has paid off for Arne and April, who don’t see a large following always equating a quality account. They don’t use quick-growth methods like sponsored posts, and try to research hashtags that will help their posts get more eyeballs.

The Challenges of Working With a Dog

If you’ve ever tried to get your dog to look at your camera when you’re taking a photo, you’ll understand why working with a canine subject can be more challenging than working with a human model, when it comes to taking direction and following instructions.

April says she’s lucky because Arne has an “awesome temperament” but is also very food motivated, which is a huge help. He is usually up for posing if she has treats. 

She also tries to be aware of how her dog is feeling—and not push it. 

“There have been plenty of times that I’ve taken Arne somewhere for a photo and he just isn’t into it. I don’t force him. I don’t want to feel like I’m ever reducing him to just a prop or exploiting him for likes,” she says.

“At the end of the day he’s my dog and I adore him with or without photos.”

With Toby, Joyce sees the Instagram and advertising work as an extension of their naturally-close relationship—and doesn’t think working together changes that. 

“I’ve always tried my best to spend as much time with Toby as possible,” she says. “I’m sure Toby just sees it as any other day with mom.”

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