A study by Statista estimated that Americans likely spent almost $110 billion on pet supplies in 2021 alone. Leading the pack of pet buyers is a growing category of animal influencers.
The direct-to-consumer (DTC) model increases the variety and quality of pet care products, and buyers want to know which products are best for their pet. And the key to growing your pet care brand lies in endorsements from animal creators online.
“We used to tune in to companies. Now, we tune in to people.”
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The rise of DTC pet care brands
“Dog and cat owners make up the vast majority (94%) of pet-owning households in the United States. The number of households including dogs has grown 36% since 2009 to 49 million households.”
– Pet Food Processing, 2020
People love pets. In the U.S., pet ownership continues to grow, and with it, pet spending. Motivations for animal adoption range from companionship to mental health and rescuing abandoned pets.
For decades, pet owners shopped for products in stores. But technology and ecommerce make it easier for new brands to enter the market and offer customers a wider selection of high-quality products.
Today, people can purchase pet food, toys, and accessories from the palm of their hand. And pet care brands can launch an online store on a shoestring budget. As a result, the traditional mass manufacturing and distribution model is struggling to keep up with smaller, agile, more numerous DTC brands.
Why DTC pet care is so important now
The impact of COVID-19 on pet shopping
Even before the economic impact of a global pandemic forced consumers to shop less at brick-and-mortar stores, online shopping was growing dramatically. Due to the lower overhead and flexibility of online stores, more brands flooded the DTC market across all industries.
Pet and animal care products have flourished within an ecommerce environment. And even as foot traffic to storefronts slowly returns to normal, online buying is here to stay.
Pet brand knowledge about their customers
With ecommerce websites and analytics tools come more valuable consumer data. Pet care brands can engage fans on social media, track website activity, note buyer preferences (particularly among those who create online accounts), and maintain contact with prospects/customers through email and text.
With more consumer data and affordable programs to consolidate that data, even the smallest DTC brands can target niche audiences with remarkable effectiveness. This advancement allows pet care brands to scale rapidly because they have a better understanding of who their target buyers are.
Increased awareness for pet health
Over time, pet owners have leveraged online platforms and like-minded communities to better understand what it means to build a healthy quality of life for their pets. These trends lead people to search for more specific items, such as particular types of dog food or more functional leashes.
DTC brands are in a perfect position to serve these niche audiences, as well as inform pet owners about the value of buying higher-quality products specific to a pet’s breed, size, and health issues.
Rise of animal activism on social media
Social media gives voices to various marginalized groups, particularly those advocating for animal rights. Many have dedicated their personal pages or launched branded pages to rescuing unwanted animals and ending abuse.
Naturally, a growing awareness for animal activism feeds pet ownership and responsible buying. Many consumers want to know that the brands they buy from take a stand for animal rights.
Social media then becomes a vibrant word-of-mouth marketplace for animal lovers to share about their favorite brands. DTC brands are optimized for social and ecommerce, making it easier to reach like-minded customers.
The popularity of animals and pets on social media
In a study by Mars Petcare US, respondents said they often preferred social posts about animals over people. And pet owners love sharing cute images and videos of their “fur babies.”
Mars found that more than half of those surveyed said they receive more likes on pet posts than they do non-pet posts. Animal content is overwhelmingly popular on social media, and that’s why pet care brands are so successful with pet and animal influencers.
DTC brands can tap into animal influencers to market to animal lovers around the world
Since social media is such a fertile ground for ecommerce and animal lovers, pet care brands can scale their business rapidly with the help of animal creators. You can find these creators in every country and niche; in fact, many celebrities (such as Sex Education’s Asa Butterfield) and non-animal influencers still own pets and like to feature them in between posts about their main topic, cause, or lifestyle.
DTC brands already succeeding in influencer marketing
My Lovely Feline is a great example of a brand that likes to partner with animal creators. Not only do they send free product to hundreds of cat influencers, but they also contract with creators to publish authentic branded content.
This strategy has resulted in more engagement on branded posts, as well as a mountain of user-generated content spreading the word among cat lovers on Instagram.
Tuff Muff Pets doesn’t just work with petfluencers — they also like to show off their top-of-the-line leashes among fitness and lifestyle creators. This approach allows the brand to expand their reach beyond niche audiences.
Alpha Paw makes pet food that is breed-specific and sustainable. The brand’s mission and values are highly specific, which means that they work hard to partner only with those creators who share similar values.
In addition to pet food, Alpha Paw makes a variety of pet accessories. For the 2021 holidays, the brand worked with its ambassador team to promote its new line of dog beds by offering discount codes to each of their animal creator partners.
Top 15 animal influencers brands should follow
Top 5 animal influencers on TikTok
No pet influencer list would be complete without Jiff Pom, a Pomeranian Guinness World Record breaker and pet celebrity. He has made appearances in movies, shows, and pop music videos and is considered by many to be the top animal influencer online today.
George is a capuchin who took TikTok by storm in 2020. He passed away tragically after a routine dental procedure in 2021, but his former owners continue to post memories and engage audiences on TikTok and Instagram.
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Juniper is one of a family of foxes born into and rescued from a life of captivity. Her rescuers delight audiences with adorable videos and inform viewers of genetic issues that arise for animals born into captivity and make them unable to survive in the wild.
Nala the cat is the second Guinness World Record holder on our list. She is the most popular cat influencer online and is a brand ambassador for Paw CBD.
Top 5 animal influencers on Instagram
Hamlet is a domesticated therapy pig based in Nashville, Tennessee. Fans enjoy her personality and surprising eye for fashion. Melanie (the owner) found her as a piglet and with Hamlet’s help has been able to live a functional life despite the threat of seizures.
Some animal influencers aren’t pet owners in the traditional sense. Daniel Bailey, for example, is a safari guide and professional photographer who features animals in his gorgeous images and videos.
Diddy Kong and Yeti Kong are playmates and Instagram favorites. Their caretakers rescued them and leverage their social media to promote animal rescue efforts around the world.
Bodhi is the “most stylish dog in the world,” according to fans. He has been featured wearing men’s outfits in GQ, Time Magazine, The New York Times, and CNN.
Konsta Punkka hails from Finland but spends most of his time traveling and searching for wildlife. His love for animals inspired him to learn photography as a teenager, and he is now one of the top nature photographers in the world.
Top 5 animal influencers on YouTube
1. Doug the Pug
Doug the Pug has appeared in music videos and a Super Bowl commercial. He is also famous for his calendar pictures and winner of two People’s Choice Awards.
Tucker Budzyn is a golden retriever who shares his YouTube spotlight with pup son, Todd. Together they taste test, play games, react, or sport fun outfits.
After cat owners noticed their pets wanting to join them while cooking, they decided to stage their cats as chefs. And that’s how That Little Puff was born. This team of seven cats hosts one of the most popular animal channels on YouTube.
Cole and Marmalade are rescue cats who have become close feline friends. Their playful videos generate thousands of views and engagements from fans.
Not much is known about the hamster and owner featured in The Secret Life of my Hamster. But that hasn’t stopped millions of fans from flocking to the pet’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
There is no better way for pet care brands to connect with their customers than to build long-term relationships with authentic animal creators. Pet influencers have an advantage over brands because they are themselves informed consumers engaging a tight-knit community of animal lovers.