Manitoba

Meet some of Winnipeg's most paw-pular canine Instagram influencers

A Winnipeg woman's best friend does more than just fetch and play. He's bringing in extra income for his family thanks to his social media presence.

These dogs, and their owners, have joined Instagrammers using their popularity to market products

Fitz the golden doodle is an Instagram influencer from Winnipeg. He promotes everything from dog bandanas, toothbrushes and supplements to rugs and watches. (@fitz_thedood/Instagram)

A Winnipeg woman's best friend does more than just fetch and play. He's bringing in extra income for his family thanks to his social media presence.

Dayna Cote runs an Instagram account for her dog, Fitz, an 18-month-old red golden doodle.

With over 70,000 followers, he's an online influencer — a person (or animal) who has the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.

Cote started his account, @fitz_thedood, so her own Instagram followers wouldn't get bombarded with puppy pictures unless they wanted to — but that's when everything changed for her.

"A couple months into his Instagram account, I started realizing that there was a huge market for pet influencers and a lot of pet products. I entered him into a modelling search for a company that did dog bandanas and that was his first thing. He was a little brand ambassador for them," Cote explained.

From there, Fitz's influence mushroomed.

He went from 1,000 followers to 4,000 in a blink, and before long, he had reached 70,000, Cote explains. With the followers came more offers from businesses for collaborations.

Fitz tries out dog shampoo and offers discount codes for it on his Instagram page. (@fitz_thedood/Instagram)

In exchange for free products and an agreed-upon fee, which she wouldn't divulge, Cote snaps pictures of Fitz using the businesses' products, comes up with a fun caption, uses different hashtags and promotes deals for different companies. 

Fitz has promoted dog toothbrushes, supplements, shampoo and apparel.

And it's not just pet products, Cote said. Fitz has landed deals to promote pet-friendly rugs and watches, too. 

In some cases, Cote has applied for contracts, but in most, businesses have contacted her to work with Fitz.

It sounds like it could be an easy job, but Cote does this on top of owning a business with her husband — and it's more involved than one might think.

Fitz collaborates with companies marketing dog products, but also household items like this pet-friendly rug. (@fitz_thedood/Instagram)

"It probably takes up too much of my time, if you ask my husband," she said. 

"There's a lot of stuff you have to keep up on. You have to keep up with your DMs [direct messages], you have to answer your emails, you have to comment back, you have to like."

Cote does much of this while assuming her dog's personality.

"Sometimes I talk to my husband or my kids like I'm Fitz because I'm commenting back to people like I'm Fitz," she said with a laugh.

Cote captures Fitz at different points during the day. She says the account is about more than promoting products. (@fitz_thedood/Instagram)

Cote isn't sure what the future holds for her dog, but she's aiming for 100,000 followers.

"The opportunities are endless, really," she said. "We take it day by day."

Marketing trend

The trend of using pet Instagram accounts to promote products is booming, as companies realize people would rather watch videos of animals on their Instagram feed than watch ads on TV. 

And in terms of popularity and influence, even with 70,000 followers, Fitz is eclipsed by the biggest pet influencers in the U.S.

Doug the Pug, for instance, has over three million followers, and Loki the Wolfdog has two million.

Fang Wan, a marketing professor at the University of Manitoba, said companies all over the world are seeking out new ways of marketing products, because people aren't necessarily looking at ads in newspapers or on TV anymore.

"They really try to leverage on existing volume, be it a dog, be it a cat, be it anything," she told CBC News.

To increase transparency, Instagram asks influencers to use #ad or #sponsored when a person is being paid for a post. Some bigger ads are given a "paid partnership" tag.

Small-scale influencing

Some pooches have a social media presence even without tens of thousands of followers — or big contracts.

Lawrence Medel wouldn't call his Shiba Inu, Lupe, an influencer. He does, though, use the popularity of Lupe's Instagram account, which has 1,700 followers, to promote pet products he uses and likes, and to draw attention to Winnipeg restaurants and cafés Medel frequents.

Like Cote, Medel started the account to document Lupe's life.

The posts would often picture locally made products Medel uses, like leashes, dog bandanas, and collars.

Lupe's owner uses his Instagram popularity to market local businesses like Pine and Bone — which makes dog bandanas — and cafés. (@heyitslupethefiasco/Instagram)

One day, on a whim, Medel said he entered a competition for Lupe to serve as a brand ambassador for a local company called Pine and Bone, which makes bandanas for dogs. Lupe won.

"For a couple of months we would take their bandanas and display them on Lupe at any kind of environment he was in, if we were on a walk or on a hike or driving somewhere," Medel explains.

Along with that, Medel got a discount code to share on the Instagram account.

He doesn't make money from these contracts. He got a couple of free bandanas for Lupe when he was a brand ambassador, but he mostly uses the Shiba Inu's Instagram fame to support local businesses.

"We haven't really advertised for anyone other than [Pine and Bone], but there are a lot of local businesses and local companies that we openly support and whatnot."

Parmesan, Piper, and Lupe got to stay in a Delta Hotel suite for a doggy sleepover to promote the hotel's dog-friendly policy. In exchange, their parents had to post on Instagram, make an Instagram story, and go live for about five minutes. (@pineandbone/Instagram)

Isabelle Ly runs the Instagram account for her dog, Parmesan, or "Parmie," a miniature golden doodle with 2,200 followers.

Like Lupe, Parmesan isn't considered a full-blown influencer, but Ly aims to brighten people's days and occasionally uses her puppy to promote products she likes.

"Other brands have approached me to partner with them and share our discount codes," the Winnipegger said, but added she doesn't make money off Parmie. 

She and Medel teamed up with the owners of Pine and Bone to help promote Delta Hotels' new dog-friendly policy.

From that, they got a free night's stay in one of Delta's suites, on the condition they make an Instagram post, a story, and go live for five minutes to highlight the "doggy sleepover."

Fitz is usually the star of his Instagram, but sometimes his human, Dayna Cote, makes an appearance to promote products like this watch. The post comes with discount codes for other products. (@fitz_thedood/Instagram)

For a local small business like Pine and Bone, dog ambassadors like Lupe and Parmesan are "integral" to their marketing strategy, co-owner Jill Bueddefeld said.

However, she said they're more interested in the tone and esthetic of the Instagram profile than  the number of followers.

They also hope their ambassadors, as she calls them, won't be confined to the screen.

"Having ambassadors who are out in the community, taking their dog on walks, talking to people and showcasing our products in real life is just as important as taking beautiful pictures to showcase on Instagram," Bueddefeld said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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