At this point you are probably familiar with the world of social media influencers. You might follow several on Instagram, or maybe your company partners with them to promote its products. But have you realized that the most valuable influencers may not even be human? This post will focus on animal influencers – they are cute, they come in a variety of species, and they are being paid to advertise products via social media.

Why animals?

Aspiring animal influencers can rise from obscurity to fame in an instant – all it takes is one viral post. The demand for cute and funny animal content is certainly present. As the Brand Protection Blog has previously reported, an estimated fifteen percent of all web traffic is connected to cats.

At first blush, it may seem odd that a cat with a Youtube account would have any influence at all over consumers’ buying habits. But if you stop to consider, the reality is that our society has valued animal celebrities for quite a long time now.

If Instagram had existed during the time of Mister Ed or Rin Tin Tin, it seems almost inevitable that those four-legged celebrities would have been followed by millions. So it should not be all that surprising that Grumpy Cat is now a household name with 2.3 million Instagram followers, her own TV movie, and several lucrative endorsement deals.

The warm, fuzzy feelings you get from looking at adorable animals are apparently quite valuable in terms of brand association. With all of the positive attention these animals receive online, brands are willing to spend an estimated $3,000 to $10,000 per post by an influencer with a few hundred thousand followers.

In addition, talent agencies who work with animal influencers have noted that they are less risky than human influencers because they are less likely to cause a scandal. After all, you can trust that a dog will not tarnish your brand’s image by making an offensive comment or getting arrested. Animal campaigns have seen huge success in recent years. So how exactly do companies partner with these influencers?

How the top animal influencers partner with brands

Creative marketing opportunities abound with animal influencers. Many products and services can be targeted to pet owners and animal lovers to capitalize on the popularity of famous pets.

With 1.6 million Instagram followers, Lil Bub is one of the original animal influencers and has enjoyed a unique level of fame to match her unique looks, which are the result of a genetic condition. Her owner enjoys a full-time job of managing Lil Bub’s career. She has partnered with companies to promote litter boxes, sports teams, laundry detergents, shoes, and grocery stores – often in connection with charitable fundraising for animal welfare organizations. Lil Bub even has her own stuffed animal.

On the canine side, Loki the Wolfdog has been incredibly successful, with 1.5 million Instagram followers and several corporate partnerships. His rugged looks have been especially suited to brands focusing on the outdoor lifestyle. Loki has promoted cars, outdoor retailers, and photography-related products.

Many of the up and coming animal stars are more exotic than the traditional cat and dog. Brands looking for a cutting edge campaign might consider partnering with non-traditional pets like ponies, hedgehogs, pigs, or raccoons.

With the number of influential animals rising to fame, opportunities for branded partnerships are endless. But do they pose any legal risks?

Advertising law applied to animal influencers

This blog has discussed the legal issues facing social media influencers and those who hire them in our previous posts about FTC endorsement guides and transparency in international advertising. Consider how the concept of truth in advertising should apply to animal influencers.

Obviously the FTC is not going to bring an enforcement action against a golden retriever. But the very absurdity of that scenario may have created a lack of awareness on the part of the human owners of these celebrity pets, and the companies that pay them to post ads. The risk to consumers here may be even greater than in the case of human influencers – will consumers understand that their favorite Insta-famous cat is being paid to sell his preferred brand of catnip?

Companies looking to utilize animal influencers should ensure that their animal ad partners are providing the appropriate disclosures and adhering to the same advertising standards expected of their human counterparts. View our previous posts linked above if you would like to read more.