No doubt about it, the U.S. pet industry has legs. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates owners spent over $55 billion on their pets last year, aided by a population that treats its animals like – or in some cases, better than – family. Pet industry sales have been in an uptrend for the last two decades, and APPA expects these gains to continue.
“There is an emotional bond between people and their pets, and it’s that emotional bond that really is the core of advertising,” says Jessie Johnson, co-owner and president of supplier Promopet (asi/79698). Jaime Keller, lead merchandise buyer at distributor firm GatewayCDI (asi/202515), agrees that animals can create a lasting connection. “Pets are not just an accessory anymore,” she says. “They have become a very important part of the family.”
Of course, some pets have the power to win over an extended family and, in the process, become marketers’ best friends, too. That’s the case with an Internet sensation named Manny the French bulldog. The personable pup – who suddenly became all the rage after his owners randomly posted some online pictures – now has his own Instagram and Twitter accounts with nearly 700,000 combined followers and his own Facebook page with 190,000 friends.
Almost overnight, supporting the Manny brand became a full-time job for his owners, Jon Huang and Amber Chavez. This Frenchie is in demand for modeling engagements, personal appearances, fundraising – and is a merchandiser’s dream, promoting a growing number of brands on his website, www.mannythefrenchie.com. “He’s really photogenic and personable and it kind of just blew up from there,” says Chavez.
Manny’s third birthday party was a sold-out affair, held at Paradise 4 Paws in Chicago. A portion of the registration fee went to French Bulldog Rescue and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The list of sponsors included such pet industry alpha dogs as GNC Pets, Martha Stewart Pets and Purina’s Beggin’ Poppers.
The event featured a Kissing Booth, and “pawty” favors were distributed to each furry guest. Some 200 PetBoxes, which included healthy treats and an array of pet products, were given to the French bulldogs and other small-breed dogs in attendance.
Then, last October, Wellness Natural Pet Food sponsored Manny’s #MonsterCute Halloween Party, providing about 100 “wellness packages” filled with pet treats, a branded dog bowl, a water tumbler and a coupon. Manny’s followers could also win a wellness package by reposting a photo of the gift package on Manny’s social media pages with the message, “I want a #wellnesspackage.” About 10 of these packages were awarded online.
Manny’s fame has also led to the launch of an online store, which features a variety of T-shirts, sweats and crews, tote bags, coffee mugs and calendars. With the help of his handlers, Manny has unveiled his own doggie bowtie line, too, and this year is going on a 15-city tour. Proceeds of the sponsored tour are going to Save-A-Vet and local animal rescue charities around the country.