How to make your pet as Internet-famous as Lil Bub and Menswear Dog combined
“His name is Blanka,” I told the sales associate at Free People as my 10-pound French bulldog puppy snorted his way across the countertop. “I might be biased, but isn’t he adorable?”
“Ohmigod,” the dark-haired girl exclaimed. “Does he have an Instagram account yet?”
This is the state of tech-savvy pet ownership today. Every adorable Frenchie, hipster-looking cat, and snuggly hedgehog has its own social media footprint. Thanks, Internet!
But some pets rise above the others. Think of Maru, the box-loving Japanese kitty whose YouTube videos have garnered millions of views. Or Lil Bub, whose big-eyed, perma-kitten face has captured the hearts of American and international fans alike. Or Trotter, the hipster French bulldog that wears people clothes and boasts hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. These pets are more than just social media-savvy—they’re famous.
Totally, utterly, legitimately Internet-famous.
But they weren’t always that way. Once upon a time, Grumpy Cat was just a disgruntled-looking feline. Boo was just a Pomeranian with an awkward haircut. Menswear Dog was just a non-clothes-wearing Shiba Inu. Then their caretakers stepped up, and they became the viral sensations they are today. You can do it too—with some help (and luck), of course. Here are some tips from the owners of famous pets on how to launch your furry friend’s Internet career.
Give your pet a voice
The best way to help your pet stand out is to give them a voice and a backstory. Domestic dogs and cats don’t live particularly exciting lives, so you’ll get extra points for creating a cute or snarky backstory that works with your pet’s personal brand. Lil Bub is a dwarf kitten with a unique look, so her owner, Mike Bridavsky, decided to say she was from outer space.
“A friend saw Bub and said I should start a blog for her,” Bridavsky says. “I thought it would be a fun, sort of ironic thing to do, so I made a Tumblr. I answered questions on Tumblr in her voice because it was funny. And then I decided to say she was from outer space.”
Other famous pets also have voices and stories. Boo, the world’s cutest Pomeranian, has a simple yet compelling description on his Facebook page: “My name is Boo. I am a dog. Life is good.” Batdog, a tech-savvy bulldog across the pond, supposedly sends snarky text messages to his absent owner. Every pet owner knows that animals have personalities, and by giving voice to your pet’s idiosyncracies on a social network such as Tumblr or Instagram, you’re making other people on the Internet feel as if they’re interacting with an adorable furry creature, not a crazy cat lady.
Work with what you’ve got
Does your pet have a quirk? Or maybe two or three? Rather than training it out of them, embrace it as something that makes them unique and easily recognizable online.
“It’s important to find a niche,” says Sonya Yu, who owns Trotter, a female French bulldog with over 170,000 Instagram followers. “You’re creating a brand, after all. There’s that dog that always has his paw up—selfie dog. Or the Brussels griffon who’s always posing with poker chips—Biggie Smalls. People need to be able to remember something special about your pet.”
In other words, if your pup enjoys lying on things, photograph him lying on tons of funny objects. Or if your cat loves hiding in boxes, record him playing and hiding in tons of different boxes.
“For example,” Yu says, “Trotter is really compliant. She’ll just sit there and let you dress her up and put things on her head. So we dress her up and put things on her head. And then we take pictures.”
Think of the branding opportunities
Do you want your pet to be featured in magazine spreads, ads, and books? Then think like a marketing representative—highlight your pet’s best features as things that make the brand look good.
“If you want to eventually collaborate with brands, you might want to try incorporating brands in your pictures,” Yu says. “Marketing people want to know how they can use your pet to sell their product. So let them see what types of photos and videos they might be able to take. For example, shoe companies love Trotter because I take lots of photos of her wearing designer shoes.”
Some strategic brand placement might help your chances of getting an offer, but it’s also important to focus on building your pet’s brand. Trotter recently worked with PayPal to promote the use of the online payment service in various venues around San Francisco. According to Dave Peck, head of social media at PayPal, the company chose Trotter for the #paypalit campaign because she was “well known on Instagram, and we thought she would bring a unique perspective to how someone can use PayPal.” In the PayPal campaign, Trotter was featured basking in fields near the Golden Gate Bridge, and sitting on a chair with cupcakes on her head—no PayPal logo in sight.
Of course, you should also stay true to your values. “We have turned down collaborations that we weren’t personally passionate about or that we felt weren’t in line with the content we would want to feature on the website,” says David Fung, owner of male Shiba Inu Bodhi—aka Menswear Dog. “The best collaborations are mutually beneficial.”
Set up separate social media accounts
Setting up a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram account for your pet might seem a bit arrogant. After all, just because your pet is the center of your world doesn’t mean anyone else will want to follow him.
The truth is, setting up separate social media accounts for your pet benefits everyone. It benefits you, because it allows you to unabashedly post 150 pictures of your pet every day; it benefits your real-life friends, because they don’t have to slog through 150 photos of your pet every day unless they subscribe separately to your pet’s feed; and it benefits strangers on the Internet, because they don’t have to see your random, awkward personal posts interspersed with cute puppy photos. Separate social media accounts also help you create a voice and brand for your pet.
“I set up an account for Trotter because I wanted to keep my Instagram my own,” Yu explains. “Plus, Trotter’s account lets me speak through her voice, which makes her more relatable to strangers.”
No pet? Choose wisely
Planning on getting a pet just so you can have an Internet-famous animal? Well, I shouldn’t have to tell you that that’s a bad idea.
But if you were planning on getting a pet anyway, here’s a tip: Don’t underestimate the quirky-looking puppy in the corner. Tons of pet careers have been launched on unique appearances—just look at Lil Bub, Grumpy Cat, and Hamilton the Hipster Cat. The Internet has a fairly short attention span, so if you can grab people with one awesome picture of a distinctive-looking furry friend, you definitely should.
“I never intended for her to be Internet famous,” says Mary Kleypas, owner of the unusually beautiful lynx Ragdoll cat Ragdoll Gracie. “I just wanted her to become the cover model of a cat magazine, since she was purchased as a pet and not for breeding due to her beauty.” Kleypas entered Gracie into the Modern Cat Cover Contest in the fall of 2012, where she took second place and received over 100,000 votes.
“I think she became famous because she’s very unique—especially her coloring,” Kleypas says. “Also, there are many people who have never even heard of a Ragdoll cat.” Gracie has almost 30,000 likes on Facebook.
Let your pet lead the way
If there’s one thing that all Internet-famous pets have in common, it’s that they love the spotlight.
“Right now, I’m driving to Chicago and Bub is sleeping on my lap,” Bridavsky says. “This is not how cats normally behave. I have four other cats, and none of them would be cut out for this. If Bub didn’t love crowds, traveling, and meeting people, we would absolutely not be doing this.”
Is your pet ready to be famous? Note that such a career requires some upkeep, which can mean constant photos, meet-and-greets, brand collaborations, and even TV interviews. If your pet doesn’t like big crowds, new people, or doing what they’re famous for doing, you should reconsider pushing for fame. “You should always have your pet’s health and comfort in mind,” Bridavsky says. “You have to respect your pet’s boundaries.”
Fung agrees. “Bodhi is usually a rock star when it comes to photoshoots, but when he doesn’t feel like shooting, we take a break and do some random fun things until he’s in the mood to shoot again. A disgruntled diva is bad news, so we don’t even go there.”
Do it for love, not fame
“It’s weird,” Bridavsky says. “It’s weird to be famous because of—and to make money off of—your cat. But I didn’t start doing this because I wanted Bub to be famous; I started doing this because I genuinely think she’s the most amazing creature on the planet, and I wanted to share that with people.”
Instead of seeking out fame, your time may be better spent having fun and being creative with your pet. The most famous pets didn’t get that way because their owners wanted them to be famous—for the most part, their owners just wanted to make people laugh.
“We saw fake lips in a store and we thought, ‘I wonder if she would hold those in her mouth,’” Yu says of Trotter. “When we realized she would pretty much hold anything, and let us put anything on her, we started taking more and more pictures. It was easy for me, because I’m actually a photographer.”
“His Internet fame wasn’t an elaborate plan, we were just bored one lazy Saturday afternoon,” Fung says of Bodhi’s rise to prominence. “We decided to take a photo of Bodhi wearing serious menswear for fun. We posted one of the photos on our personal Facebook, and the response from our friends and family was so explosive that we spent the next day putting together a Tumblr for the little guy.”
Perhaps these pets can’t appreciate the outpouring of love and appreciation they receive online, but at least their owners can afford to supply them with all the treats and toys they could ask for.