Pet City | By ANDY NEWMAN | JULY 13, 2017
A pop-up promotion in Central Park featured some of New York City’s leading pupfluencers, among them Toast, a rescued spaniel with 377,000 Instagram followers.
Credit: John Taggart for The New York Times
The couch set up in Central Park was oversize and lime green and crowded with Instagram celebrity dogs and cushions bearing the logo of Scotch-Brite lint rollers. It was a warm, sunny Wednesday in May. The dogs wore lime green and yellow Scotch-Brite bandannas and their owners wore expressions of strenuous amusement.
The event, Scotch-Brite said, featured some of New York City’s leading “pupfluencers”: Toast (@toastmeetsworld), a rescued spaniel with 377,000 Instagram followers, famous for her hanging tongue; Louboutina (@louboutinanyc), the “hugging dog” with 165,000 followers, and more.
Fans and passers-by waited in line to take selfies with the dogs. People magazine was doing a Facebook Live piece. “Guys,” the moderator asked, “how important are lint rollers to all of you in your day-to-day life?”
“They are very important for me, particularly when it comes to clothing,” said the owner of the up-and-coming Griffon, Sprout (@brussels.sprout, 63,000 followers).
To some, this scene may have seemed odd. In fact, given the rise of influencer marketing, in which people with big social-media followings are paid to promote products, and the hugeness of animal photos on Instagram, it was closer perhaps to inevitable.
There is now a talent agency based in New York that represents social-media celebrity animals. It is called the Dog Agency, though its 80-creature stable also includes a hedgehog, a pig and a pair of finger monkeys with over a million followers.
“Pet influencers outperform humans,” said Loni Edwards, 32, the agency’s founder. Which is to say their posts go viral more often, and they get more comments and more likes.
Also, pets stay on message. “There’s stronger brand security when you partner with a pet influencer,” Ms. Edwards said. “A human influencer might get drunk at a party, or do something offensive, tweet something off-color.”
All the dogs at the Scotch-Brite pop-up were Dog Agency clients. Their contracts required them to post. Sprout wrote: “Had so much fun yesterday! Rollin’ around on the cuddle couch with @scotchbrite_3m Lint Rollers showed NYC (and mom!) just why us pets are so #WorthTheMess! #sponsored.” The post got 2,154 likes.
Ms. Edwards said that pets whose followers number in the hundreds of thousands could get $3,000 to $10,000 for each piece of content.
Some other things to know about pet influencers:
They get book deals.
They prize authenticity. “It’s quite important to us to remain authentic so we only work with brands we use,” said Stephanie Zheng, owner of Atticus (@atticusthehedgie, 77,000 followers), a hedgehog who postedabout his love for Burger King Cheesy Tots.
And no matter how successful they get, they are only in this crazy business to make people happy.
Glee (@goldens_glee), a 6-month-old retriever puppy with 300,000 followers, may be the ultimate example of this. She was a brand of happiness before she was even a dog.
Given the rise of influencer marketing and dog celebrities on Instagram, forays into product placement were perhaps inevitable.
Her owner, Jared Kasner, a corporate lawyer, started the @goldens_glee account in 2015 as a place to repost other people’s photos of golden retrievers. Last winter, he conducted a nationwide puppy search to find a permanent face for his brand.
The winning pup became Glee.
“Think of it as ‘photo documentary series meets happy positivity,’” Mr. Kasner said.
A photo of Glee with two young women posted on June 9 has this caption:“What makes Kate and Amanda Gleeful? ‘Efficiency!’”
A few weeks after the lint-roller pop-up, the Dog Agency client King Bentley (@kingbentleythebulldog, 102,000 followers) did a branded photo shoot in Bryant Park for a collar that tracks a dog’s activity and temperature and sends personalized alerts. “Our product is like giving your dog a cellphone,” said Herbie Calves, a vice president at Link AKC, which makes the collar.
The photographer was @TheDogist, a human named Elias Weiss Friedman who has 2.6 million followers. He has been called the Brandon Stanton of dogs. He waved and squeezed a squeaky toy and made funny sput-sput noises.
Bentley strained at his harness and worked his adorable underbite. In 10 minutes, he was done.
After the shoot, at the Dog Agency’s quarters in a WeWork office-share on Park Avenue, I met Ella Bean (@ellabeanthedog, 94,000 followers), a tiny 9-year-old puppy-mill rescue who looks like a wrung-out rag with bulging grapes for eyes.
Ella is all about high fashion and the high life. She is often photographed with paws up on a white tablecloth, modeling a dog version of a chic outfit.
King Bentley, a bulldog with 102,000 followers, modeled a high-tech collar in Bryant Park for an ad shot by Elias Weiss Friedman, better known on Instagram as @TheDogist.
Credit John Taggart for The New York Times
Her path to fame shows the power of networking. Last year, Ella’s owner, Hilary Sloan, made a leather jacket for Ella for fashion week. Ms. Edwards saw the post and fell in love. She prevailed upon Ms. Sloan to make a jacket for her dog Chloe (@chloetheminifrenchie), who had over 140,000 followers. “That was when Loni started really cross-posting,” Ms. Sloan said.
Ella Bean has done campaigns for Barneys, Ralph Lauren and Neiman Marcus. Despite the partnership potential baked into her name, she has never worked with L. L. Bean. “It’s a little woodsy for her,” Ms. Sloan said.
“Keeping that authenticity there,” Ms. Edwards said. “She skews more luxury.”
Not all pupfluencers are represented by the Dog Agency. Winston (@winstonthewhitecorgi, 198,000 followers) has no agent. He has teamed up with American Express and Polaroid. His owner, Tina Kim, a city employee, says she turned down offers from both Coke and Pepsi.
Samson (@samsonthedood), a goldendoodle with 162,000 followers, was signed to the Dog Agency for a few months but left. “That was a little much,” said his owner, Jessica K., a Brooklyn doctor who withheld her last name because she wants to keep her dog business life and her personal life separate.
There were authenticity concerns, she said, arising from a request to do an ad for Purina dog food.
“I’m not going to have Samson promote a food he won’t eat,” Jessica said.
The other day, I met up with Glee at the Madison Square Park dog run. After a “What Makes You Gleeful?” book, Mr. Kasner wants to take her around the country.
“There’s so much division right now,” he said, as Glee sat at his feet. “Despite our differences, red or blue, color, race, religion, whatever it is, dogs can unite us. And so can bringing out people’s happiness.”