Six years ago, Bryan Reisberg was a struggling New York University film school grad whose first feature had been described by Variety as “an 84-minute shoulder shrug.” He was working in advertising and barely making the rent when he and his fiancée Alex Garyn gave themselves a wedding present in November 2015 that changed their lives.
It was a corgi puppy, who they named Maxine. Reisberg started posting videos as @madmax_fluffyroad because, he said, “I just wanted the world to see how damn cute my puppy was.” Maxine built up a respectable number of followers—about fifty thousand—and within a year, Reisberg’s filmmaker instincts returned. “I shot a video with a cinematographer friend in Brooklyn,” said Reisberg. “Then I wrote a script, and hired the voice-over actor Jon St. John (he was the voice of Duke Nukem in the video game); he responded to a casting notice I put on Voices.com.”
Reisberg posted “Maxine the Fluffy Corgi” to Vimeo on November 1, 2016. It became a Vimeo “staff pick”—and @madmax_fluffyroad went viral. Maxine now has over five million followers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Last year, Reisberg signed five-figure deals with MGM Rewards, Amazon, and Grubhub; Dell computer paid him $75K for two @madmax_fluffyroad posts. And if you live in New York, you recently saw Maxine’s furry face on digital billboards showing New Yorkers how to travel responsibly with their pets on subways, buses, and commuter trains.
“I’m getting paid to hang out with my dog,” said Reisberg, who is 34 and quit his advertising job in 2021. “It’s incredible. I’d do all this stuff for free. I probably shouldn’t say that, should I?”
Many American pet owners are finding that their dogs are a goldmine, and they’re giving up their traditional jobs to turn them into a salary. “I’m making way more now than when I was working a regular job,” said Chris Equale, whose corgis Hammy and Olivia (@hammyandolivia) have over 5.5 million TikTok followers. “It’s all-consuming,” added Equale, who said he was earning six figures in tech before becoming a dogfluencer. “I work on this twelve hours a day. And when I’m not filming or editing content, I’m on social media trying to find inspiration for my next post.”
Equale said he doesn’t like to film with the corgis for more than an hour at a time because it’s stressful for them. Even an hour can be too much for Hammy and Olivia, and it requires lots of treats, which make them fat. “Before COVID they were just regular pets,” said Equale. “Not social stars. It’s been an adjustment.”
Hammy and Olivia went viral early in July 2020 when Equale posted a video of the dogs “talking” to his vacuum cleaner. (A large part of their appeal is that they bark in sort of a singsongy way.) Response was strong and within a few weeks, Equale quit his tech job to focus on creating content for @hammyandolivia. In July 2021, “things went rocket ship for us when we posted Hammy pretending to lose his legs,” said Equale “The video got fifteen million collective views across every social platform—TikTok, YouTube, Instagram. That was the inflection point for us. The video sent us from 50K–100K on Instagram and got us 400K additional followers on TikTok. A follow-up has 73 million views on YouTube.”
Views led to partnerships with companies like Southwest Airlines. “Well, if you do the math, we’re getting more views than a lot of Super Bowl commercials,” said Equale, 35, whose three-bedroom home in Las Vegas includes a boudoir converted to an 8 × 10 closet with custom cabinets for the corgis. Hammy and Olivia have 300 outfits (including 200 hair bows for Olivia). The dogs have outgrown traditional dog costumes; Equale buys them clothes for three- and five-year-old boys at Target and Walmart.
“We say yes to about three percent of brand pitches,” said Equale, who posts about 1,500 videos a year and has been offered first-class tickets to Europe and a five-figure fee for his corgis to show up at an event. “We turn down five figures all the time if it doesn’t feel right for the brand.”
Maintaining the looks and health of one’s pet is also paramount—and pricey. Equale spends $500 a month on Hammy and Olivia’s hygiene and grooming. Reisberg takes Maxine to swim therapy at Water for Dogs twice a month for $220 a session, though 90 percent is covered by pet insurance, which costs $95 a month. “Maxine tore her shoulder and needed surgery,” said Reisberg. “She had arthroscopic surgery, which is a $10K procedure that we paid $1K for. Pet insurance is incredibly important. The peace of mind is priceless. If she farts the wrong way I take her to the vet.”
Cliff Brush was working as an accountant in 2020 when he posted a 10-second TikTok, as @brodiedatdood, of his goldendoodle Brodie wearing sunglasses with his head out the window of a car. The caption said, “Posting the chillest dog every day till he’s famous.”
“It got like two million views in 24 hours, which was a lot then,” said Brush, 32. “I went from 4K followers to 40K followers in 24 hours.” That year Brodie got his first brand deal, $1,200 from Warner Brothers, to promote Wonder Woman 1984. Brodie’s size and strength—he weighs 80 pounds and stands five feet, five inches tall on his hind legs—allow Brush to create videos of himself, with Brodie on his back, as he downhill cycles, scooters, and water-skis. That first year @brodiedatdood brought in $70K in revenue, matching Brush’s salary as an accountant. In 2021, that figure rose to $120K and Brush quit his job; last year, revenue surged to $800K.
“Seventy percent is from brand partnerships,” said Brush, who has traveled to 30 states with Brodie—who now has six million TikTok followers. “It was insane seeing all of these people surrounding us in airports. I realized that all of these likes and follows are real.”
Brodie will appear in the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail this summer as a sponsored athlete. “GoPro Mountain Games fly us out, treat us like VIPs, and we get paid an appearance fee,” said Brush. “It’s really low, because it’s a nonprofit—Vail Valley Foundation hosts the games—and it’s an event I wanted to do. We’ll make a vid for them, meet everybody at the event, and we’re speaking on stage, probably about how to manage your dog’s social media.”
Today’s dogfluencers need to diversify quickly and expand their revenue streams, particularly because their animals aren’t going to live that long. Maxine is six years old; Brodie is three; Hammy and Olivia are eight and six.
Equale is working with Frederator Studios, the producers of The Fairly OddParents and Adventure Time, on an animated series based on Hammy and Olivia. A @hammyandolivia cookbook called Barkcuterie will be out this April from Quatro Publishers.
Reisberg, meanwhile, is expanding into dog backpacks. His first carrier, the Maxine One, launched last year, and he officially kicked off his company Little Chonk with $400K from an angel investor. “We’re able to leverage Maxine’s robust social channels to offset any potential out-of-pocket costs to Little Chonk,” said Reisberg. Media outlets including Wired and Good Housekeeping gave the backpack, which sells for $120, positive reviews.
Most recently Reisberg signed a collaborative deal for Maxine to appear on the jumbotrons at Brooklyn Nets and New York Mets games. “There’s no financial exchange that would categorize this as an ad,” said Reisberg. “It’s just an opportunity to make cool content with a local sports team. Also, a great opportunity to show off the backpack in a new environment. And obviously it’s awesome to get on the court.”
Equale has been making Cameo videos of Hammy and Olivia for fans at $160 a reel. “I’ve done around 1,500 personalized videos,” he said. That’s $240K in the bank.
“It feels like there’s infinite demand for this,” said Equale. “Our fans feel like Hammy and Olivia are a part of their lives. People depend on them. I’ve had DMs from people who are dealing with depression, and found the world to be a fun, silly place after watching our content, and they began rethinking their lives. It was profound.”
This is Noah Rinsky’s first piece for The Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @oldjewishmen. For more trends changing the way we live, read Olivia Reingold’s investigation into The Booming Market for Backdoor Ozempic.
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