It was a face that launched a thousand memes. Grumpy Cat’s stare and perpetual moodiness turned her into an instant celebrity after her photo was first posted online in 2012. In the years leading up to her death in 2019, the furious feline amassed a following 2.5 million on Instagram and garnering millions of hits on YouTube, raking in a fortune endorsing everything from cereal to video games. His page continues to post posthumously (including, yes… an NFT lineup).
In the decade since Grump Cat went viral, pet influencers — or “petfluencers” — have become a regular feature on social media. Animals such as Tuna, a rescue dog famous for his ugly and endearing underbite, and Mr. Pokee, a cheerful-looking German hedgehog, demand huge fees to promote airlines and hotels. Their owners sell their own lines of merchandise and photo books. Tika the Iggy, a Montreal-based Italian greyhound, has achieved celebrity status as a high-fashion canine model, not only for dog brands, but also for designer labels like Hermes and Moschino.
“A single sponsored post can cost a brand up to $15,000”
A single sponsored post from the biggest names in petinfluencers can cost a brand up to $15,000. But as owners increasingly spend on food, pet tech products, and clothing for their pets, there’s a growing need for these advertising services.
“Because we have so many new products in the pet market, there is a demand for new channels of communication. It’s very difficult for brands to get that [reach] via mass media,” says André Karkalis of TONY, a German “petfluencer agency” that connects a bank of more than 1,000 Instagram-famous pets in Europe with brands such as BMW and Vodafone.
A story-driven marketing strategy
Having recognized the boost that petfluencers can give their products, brands need to calculate how best to engage with them. Old-fashioned product placement may not be enough. Consumers have become increasingly wary of influencers who sell endless different products to their followers. This is especially true when it comes to items like pet food, where owners tend to find a brand that works for them and then stick with it.
“The best days of this kind of advertising are behind us,” says Michael Hurnaus, founder and chief executive of Austrian startup Tractive, which makes GPS trackers for dogs and cats. “It’s not something that lasts. You can’t ask the same influencer to say every three weeks that “this is the best product”, because his audience is limited and he has already seen it. What we’ve learned is that it’s about telling stories. it makes [the product] a natural part of their history.
Karkalis agrees that the best campaigns will be based on richer narratives. “Nobody wants to see 100 pet food ads from a petfluencer,” he says. “Pets are family and petfluencers are emotional in everything they do, so we need to create emotional moments too.”
One of his company’s recent campaigns saw a famous chocolate Labrador ‘try out’ a BMW. A new campaign for Sammy’s, a dog treat made by German company Bosch Tiernahrung, will lend a motorhome to petfluencers so they can create engaging content for a week on the road. “The more creative and interesting we can make it, the better the results will be,” says Karkalis.
The biggest is not always the best
It’s not just big, expensive names like Tuna or Tika that can generate value for brands. Beneath them is a growing army of petty influencers, whose followers number in the tens of thousands. “A petfluencer has fewer followers” than a beauty or lifestyle influencer, says Karkalis, “but they might have the perfect target group for most brands.” Most people don’t want to follow a dog food company on social media, so “even a smaller pet influencer has a higher reach than most brands,” he points out.
Some companies, including Tractive, have set up their own internal teams to identify and work with pet influencers. “We found that some petfluencers who had 5,000 followers performed very well for us, and some who had 100,000 followers didn’t perform at all,” says Hurnaus. “So we’re trying to look at a combination of follower numbers, as well as the average interactions with each post.”
It’s increasingly difficult for influencers to fake followers or likes, but brands should always be wary of who they interact with online. “We’ve learned that there are quite a few companies trying to game the world of influencer marketing, saying they can give you access to a million petinfluencers,” he says. “You have to be very careful about what to look for and what to pay for, because we’ve worked with some groups where there was no impact, no response.”
One solution is for companies to identify long-term partners who can promote their products in a “more natural” way, says Hurnaus. This could involve a petfluencer visibly using the product, but expecting followers to ask about it rather than openly trying to sell it to followers. “Most of them [petfluencers] are interested in doing long-term partnerships, because I think influencers have realized that if they show 19 different products on camera, they’re going to get burned at some point,” he says.
It’s not just pet brands that recognize the value of petinfluencers: Instagram’s most famous pets promote everything from fashion to food. Yet, for pet products in particular, pet influencers have become an essential part of advertising. According to TONY’s Karkalis, the $15,000 per post that top petinfluencers can charge brings them closer to lifestyle and beauty influencers. Even the costs of working with the smaller names are increasing.
“Now, I would say that at least one in two brands works with petfluencers”
“Three years ago, fees were on a totally different basis, but petfluencers have become more expensive to work with,” he notes. “Three years ago, we had to explain to companies what petfluencers are, and companies were asking ‘do we need them?’ Now, I would say that at least one in two brands works with petfluencers. It’s a must now. »