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Inside the glorious and lucrative world of Instagram’s famous pups

Manny has achieved a lot for a six year old.

He’s a philanthropist and social media influencer with more than a million followers on Instagram, including Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. He’s appeared on Good Morning America and had his own booth at a music festival. He has numerous licensing and sponsorship deals with brands like Turtle Wax and Dremel.

Oh, and he’s a French bulldog.

Manny the Frenchie, as he’s known on Instagram, is not alone. He’s part of a growing breed of pet influencers that include other pedigree personalities like shih tzu Potato McTater and Cavalier King Charles spaniel Toast Meets World — they’re pictured above, doing their adorable thing.

Each of these doggos have achieved fame thanks to a distinctive personality trait.

Take Chloe the mini Frenchie, who is about half the size of a typical French bulldog. Her petite stature garnered her thousands of adoring fans, and eventually led to sponsorship deals in beauty and fashion.

Inspired by Chloe, her owner, Loni Edwards, has founded The Dog Agency — an agency that manages internet-famous pets.

Potato’s famous costumes, meanwhile, included Hillary Clinton for Halloween, and have helped earn him notoriety. He has since appeared on the Today Show:

Toast, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel rescued from a puppy mill, had to have all of her rotted teeth removed. This caused her tongue to flop out of her mouth, and the internet to fall in love with her.

Her ensuing fame has led to a book deal, merchandise, sponsorships, and even a fashion campaign. While her following largely grew organically without the help of management, she is now managed by Edwards’ Dog Agency.

“I have a background in PR, and I started sending out pictures of her in little outfits to different magazines, and it took off,” said Toast’s owner, Katie Sturino. “It became a really fun, cool thing.”

Manny got the internet’s attention with his sink naps.

“That’s really what started to go viral,” said Manny’s owner, Jon Huang. “From there, celebrities started following up with him, giving him shout-outs. He got followed by the cast members from Glee, and then local media started picking him up.”

The corporate sponsorships

The money pet influencers can make from sponsorships varies based on follower count, but it can be a cash cow. Pets with a comparable number of followers to Manny can make anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per sponsored post, according to Edwards.

“Of course there’s many variables that go into it — the rates pets can make per post depend on the following, the engagement, and what’s involved in the campaign,” Edwards said. “But generally those with a couple hundred thousand followers are making $3,000 to $5,000 per piece of sponsored content, while those in the millions make $10,000 to $15,000.”

Those figures are comparable to human rates; Forbes reported in April that an influencer with 100,000 followers can expect around $5,000 per post.

While one might reasonably expect these pet influencers to promote products for animals, that’s not usually the case. Toast is best known as a fashion model; she did the entire look-book for Karen Walker’s Spring 2015 eyewear campaign and, as a result, was featured on posters all around the world.

Though it might seem odd that a fashion brand would choose a dog to model its new merchandise, Edwards said it actually makes good sense.

“A lot of the brands we work with are human brands as opposed to pet brands,” she said of her agency. “Brands are seeing the value that pet influencers are providing; they have higher engagement levels, they’re relatable across all demographics, and they offer all the traditional benefits of influencer marketing.”

Modeling hasn’t been Toast’s only foray into the human world. She also has brand deals with Stainmaster, Febreze, and Swiffer. Chloe also has her own distinct Instagram persona, focussing on topics that might not seem typical for an animal.

“Travel, fashion, and food,” Edwards said. “Chloe’s content tends to revolve around those themes, and the brands she partners with are based on those themes as well.”

Manny, unlike other famous pets with such large followings, is managed by his owner Huang.

“We try to partner exclusively and strategically with partners who are organic to us, and who kind of share our mission,” Huang said. Manny’s partners are based in both the human and pet worlds, and range from Halo organic pet food to power tool brand Dremel, which makes a special nail filing attachment.

“We take all of Manny’s photos,” Huang said, explaining how the process works. “We write all the captions for the organic posts. If it’s campaign related, we write them in Manny’s voice and if the partner wants to change or edit, then they can choose to.”

Corporate partnerships and appearances aren’t the only ways these pets make money.Toast and Manny both have book deals and merchandise available in their online stores. Manny even did a campaign with American Apparel — his first partnership.

Philanthro-pups

Of course, it’s not all take, take, take. The humans behind the Insta pets generally use the social media platforms to give back where possible.

“Manny is known as the most philanthropic pet celebrity in the world,”Huang says. It’s a grand claim, but he insists that they’ve donated some $105,000 to various charitable causes. The proceeds from Manny’s merchandise go to animal rescue organizations and the pair purchased a new van for an animal shelter. Manny also visited a cystic fibrosis patient whose only wish was apparently to meet the dog.

Huang plans to launch Manny’s non-profit foundation before the end of the year, which will benefit whatever causes “touch [his] heart.”

“We visit a lot of retirement homes; Manny’s training to visit kids now,” Huang continued. “We want to work with kids with disabilities and fighting cancer. We want to cheer them up with Manny.”

According to Chloe’s website, she has used her celebrity to raise money for the Humane Society of NY, mostly through fashion-based collaborations.

“[Chloe] recently collaborated with luxury scarf line Donni Charm to create dog scarves, as well as worked with a factory in NYC to create Pawtty Bags, essentially little dog purses to hold poop bags,” her website states. All proceeds went to the Humane Society.

For Sturino, the most important use of Toast’s platform is encouraging dog adoption. She began the account not to seek fame, but because she felt more people needed to be aware of rescue dogs like Toast.

“She just had a very special energy — she just did,” Sturino said. “People were always very drawn to her.”

In addition to monetary donations to the humane society, she frequently uses Toast’s account to advocate for the removal of pet stores from New York City.

The future for Insta-pups

The Instagram pet community has ballooned in recent years, with newer pet owners seeing the mass appeal enjoyed by famous animals.

“I think that there was a first wave of Instagram famous dogs,” Sturino said. “And now that world has bloated so much.”

Take Potato, whose owner Tracy Wong started his account after following San Francisco’sDaily Dougie. “I became obsessed [with Dougie],” Wong said. “I said, ‘When I have a dog, he’s totally gonna be Instagram famous.’ It started as a joke, and it was just me following other dogs on Instagram and getting a lot of joy out of that; we never thought it would escalate to the point it’s at now.”

Much like any niche community, Wong said, there’s always a bit of drama. Sturino agreed. “It’s like the Toddlers and Tiaras of dogs,” she joked.

The issues stem from owners of rescue dogs versus those of dogs who were bought from a store or breeder. “A lot of store bought dogs on Instagram hide a little behind dog rescue, acting like they didn’t buy a dog,” Sturino said.

The ASPCA works closely with a lot of these canine celebs. “Instagram pet celebrities have a large influence on their fans, which is why the ASPCA often collaborates with them to spread awareness about key animal welfare issues including the importance of pet adoption, how to end puppy mills, and the cruelty of dog fighting, said Olivia Melikhov, ASPCA director of social media strategy.

“Lil Bub, for example, does a great job raising awareness about special needs pets, whileMarnie the Dog helps raise visibility about the value of senior pet adoption. So while simply being famous on Instagram is a celebration of pets in general, we feel the true potential impact of these wonderful animals is their ability to advocate for fellow dogs and cats in need and at risk.”

All of the owners said their pets’ fans made running the accounts a fulfilling experience.

“Potato’s fans are the sweetest people in the world,” Wong said. “You see this goofy-looking, fluffy dog — just his existence makes us happy. It’s cool we get to share that with everyone else.”

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