By ANDY NEWMAN | JULY 20, 2017
“Eating trash, staring at wall, peeing on floor,” I wrote for his profile — a breath of fresh air.
Credit: Andy Newman/The New York Times
My dog, Barnaby, wanted it all. So did I.
I was working on a Pet City column about famous Instagram dogs and their lucrative side careers as professional spokes-pets. I went to a pop-up promo event for Scotch-Brite featuring some of New York City’s highest-wattage “pup-fluencers,” as the marketing email called them: charismatic creatures who had been hired to post about Scotch-Brite lint rollers to their hundreds of thousands of followers.
I came home with tales of treats and glory. These dogs bask in adoration. Fans line up to pet them. Their owners feed them snacks all day to keep them happy for the cameras. Some of them are actually paid in dog food — Barnaby liked the sound of that. The biggest ones are paid thousands of dollars just to sit around being dogs for a few hours. That sounded fine to me.
And so we decided. My elderly, cranky, willfully incontinent basset-beagle mix would become a pup-fluencer. A rising Instagram star was born: @TheHoundBarnaby.
First we needed to work on his branding. All successful Instagram dogs have a distinct identity. Some wear funny dog clothes. Others do tricks.
Because Barnaby refuses to pose or really do anything other than exactly what he wants, I figured the theme of @TheHoundBarnaby should be uncompromising realism.
“Eating trash, staring at wall, peeing on floor,” I wrote for his profile — a breath of fresh air in a brandscape choked with pooches cutely cocking their heads at the camera or sitting at tables laden with Champagne flutes.
I told my plan to Loni Edwards, the founder of the Dog Agency, a firm that represents top Instagram pets.
Bad idea, she said. @TheHoundBarnaby needed to have “interests” that humans could relate to.
“If you’re trying to turn him into an influencer that brands are going to want to work with, the more humanized the better,” Ms. Edwards said. “For example, my dog’s themes are fashion, travel and charities.” Her dog, @chloetheminifrenchie, has 170,000 followers.
“Things that are unique help, too,” she added. “A lot of dogs have accidents and like to stare at things.”
Well. This was going to be tough. But all I could do was work with what Barnaby gave me.
We went for a walk. He grabbed a plastic wrapper — his favorite streetfood — before I could yank him away. Click! The wrapper said, “Oven Delights Strawberries and Cream Danish.” Product placement! I posted the photo and waited for sponsorship offers to roll in. I pictured a truck pulling up to our house with thousands of plastic snack wrappers. Nothing.
Still, Barnaby’s pup-fluence was growing. I told everyone I knew to follow him, and somehow complete strangers were finding him on Instagram. Every time people liked a post, @TheHoundBarnaby followed them, and sometimes they followed back.
A few days later, Barnaby beat me to a plastic bag again. Click! This one got 40 likes (his most popular post yet). He broke 100 followers — the big time!
I met up with Jared Kasner, the owner of @goldens_glee, a 6-month-old puppy who already had more than 300,000 followers. How do we take it to the next level, I asked.
Post more, Mr. Kasner said: “You might think you can put too much out there, but people are on Instagram so much. If they feel attached to a brand, putting something up three times a day is not too much.”
But suddenly I couldn’t seem to catch Barnaby doing anything interesting. I thought about leaving a McDonald’s wrapper or a used diaper on the sidewalk for him to find, but staging a post would be off-brand for a dog who was all about authenticity. So I didn’t post for a while.
His numbers started to slip. From a peak of 125 followers down to 120. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, though I couldn’t figure out why people were taking the trouble to unfollow us.
The drought broke in early July. I got an artsy shot of him howling at a rainbow.
Then I took a nice one of him flopped on the kitchen floor, bloodshot eyes staring balefully at the camera. “Ready for the day,” I captioned it.
But neither post took off. Some of our best work! And so, Barnaby and I are officially letting go of the brass ring.
We’ll post when something amazing happens, but don’t wait around for us, Instagram. We’ve got walls to stare at.