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The weird and wonderful pet influencers

What does it take to make your pet Internet famous? We took a look at the world of Instagram product endorsements to find out.

When Loni Edwards graduated from Harvard Law School, she never imagined her career would involve running a talent agency for Internet-famous pets. But shortly after moving from Los Angeles to New York, Chloe–a photogenic French mini-bulldog–changed her life.

After setting up an Instagram account for Chloe, something surprising happened. Advertisers contacted Edwards asking to use Chloe in their campaigns. “The first time they reached out I was surprised and excited; Chloe is my baby,” Edwards says. After the campaigns snowballed, she found herself immersed in a thicket of contracts for all sorts of Instagram- and other social-media-based paid pet projects.

That’s when Edwards did what’s perhaps the natural thing for a Harvard Law graduate with a celebrity dog. She founded a talent agency for pets.

The Dog Agency is a New York-based management agency “focusing exclusively on dog influencers.” And it’s not the only one: Edwards is just one player in a crowded advertising space that connects adorable animals (and the humans who care for them) with everyone from small fashion boutiques to multinational corporations.

Animalistic Content

For Instagram, pets are big business–both in terms of generating content and building compelling advertisements for users.

Fur Card, a site that tracks what they call “the social paw-prints of today’s most influential animals,” says the three most-followed pets on Instagram, Nala (a mixed siamese and tabby cat), Marutaro (a Shiba Inu dog), and Tuna (a chihuahua-dachshund mix) have at least 1.2 million followers each–and in Nala’s case, more than 1.8 million.

I live in Los Angeles, perhaps the U.S.’s most pet-obsessed city, and I have a 3-year-old pug named Penny at home who I’d like to turn into an Internet superstar. Does Penny have what it takes to make the Instagram A-list?

Instagram’s animals–whose guardians give them detailed online personas with humorous captions, personality traits, and more–are at the center of a growing corner of the advertising world that works through two systems.

The first leverages the animals’ own Instagram (and increasingly, Snapchat) accounts. Through middleperson “influencer agencies,” pet parents are able to broker deals with brands to have their products conspicuously shown in Instagram photos. The agency takes a commission, and the animal goes on to parlay their social media stardom into monetization.

Meanwhile, other companies simply use the celebrity pets of Instagram in their own advertisements. Boo, a Pomeranian with 17.5 million Facebook fans, signed an agreement to become Virgin America’s “pet liaison” several years ago.

Chloe Kardoggian (whose name, in fact, is trademarked) has over 90,000 Instagram followers. In a phone conversation, Chloe’s human companion, Jersey City-based graphic designer Dorie Herman, says she was initiated into the world of pet endorsements when she was unexpectedly offered free products with the request that they show up in Instagram posts with Chloe.

Thanks to Herman’s savvy and their representation, Chloe now regularly appears in product endorsement posts. In recent months, Herman partnered with Chlorox Triple Action Dust Wipes, Swiffer, and Beggin’ Littles, among others. Like her human counterparts, Chloe Kardoggian also works with different representation. She previously worked with New York-based Socialfly with brands like PetSmart and Natural Balance, but is now represented by Edwards at The Dog Agency.

And why would a brand want a dog endorsing their product, anyway? According to Edwards, pets are safer bets when companies want Instagram endorsements from celebrities with large followings. “Human influencers might say something off-brand or that offends the brand, but dogs are on message at all times,” Edwards told Fast Company. “People like pet content, and there’s higher ability of going viral. You have all the abilities of influencer marketing, plus factors that you don’t have for humans.”

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