Social media has suddenly given rise to a glut of celebrity pets – from Grumpy Cat to Esther the Wonder Pig to Toast the toothless King Charles Spaniel – and that can spell big business. Top tier pet influencers can attract tens of thousands of followers on social media, if not millions, garnering book deals, calendars and coveted marketing partnerships in the process. That’s in addition to the potential payout from YouTube ad revenue.
But the celebrity pet trend – and our desire to make these animals just a little more human – is more than a hundred years old, a seeming consequence of the isolation of modern life.
The trend of singling out animals for fame may have begun in the 19th century, when individual elephants and horses began to build a following. Horseracing also rose to prominence around this time. Soon, the rise of photography and film provided even more opportunities for popularizing animals.
The rise of television created more opportunities for celebrity, but at that point, the emphasis was often on the characters the animals portrayed, rather than on the pets’ distinct personalities.
Nowadays, marketers hope to take advantage of our urge to connect with charismatic animals. But what’s interesting about the latest generation of animal influencers is that they’re used to sell products after they’re famous, rather than rising to fame as the result of an ad.
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