Zenpup is using (human) influencers as it tries to break into the CBD market for pets

CBD is going to the dogs. At least, that’s the case for Zenpup, a five-month-old luxury CBD brand aiming to be an alternative option to pharmaceuticals for anxious pups.

Since its inception, this past December, Zenpup — which uses a 95% direct-to-consumer, 5% exclusive retail partner (Zenpup declined to share who the retail partners are) model — has spent roughly five to $7,000 a month on marketing. Now, after it a recent round of friends and family funding, Zenpup will likely increase that marketing spend to between $10 to $12,000 per month.

Currently, those funds are being spent on a celebrity seeding program aimed at influencers, partnerships with publishers and a targeted email and affiliate marketing strategy using Boundless Labs. At SXSW, Zenpup partnered with Nylon on a festival showcase. The brand is currently in talks to also work with Paper Magazine.

Zenpup recognized the power of influencer posts after celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin posted about the brand. The company saw that Atkin had adopted a dog who was suffering from separation anxiety and sent her product with a personalized note for her dog. Atkin then organically posted about it. Since then, other influencers like rapper Megan Thee Stallion have posted about the brand after receiving products which have helped the company’s Instagram following grow to almost 19,000 since December.

“We kind of doubled down on that when we saw this traction that we’re getting in the celebrity and kind of higher-end market,” said Zenpup co-founder and CMO, Nicholas Charles Weatherhead. “We devised this whole influencer strategy in the celebrity seeding a program to get the word out organically.”

Using word-of-mouth to market CBD is commonplace, according to industry analysts.

“Over the last two years almost all the growth that’s taking place in CBD has been based on word-of-mouth marketing and that still has a ton of traction because with formal advertising we’re really limited,” said Jamie Schau, head of research for Brightfield Group, a market research group that tracks the CBD and cannabis market.

Zenpup considered using banner ads but, after talking to various ad networks, decided to eschew that for now because they don’t want to end up with banner ads on Grindr or Pornhub. “We couldn’t really nail down where the hell our stuff would end up once we did the buy,” said Weatherhead.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Google are off-limits for CBD brands’ advertising, as the U.S. has yet to legalize marijuana on a federal level. That’s why other CBD brands like Scotch Porter and Medterra have used similar approaches, tapping influencers and experiential partnerships at SXSW, respectively. Still, for a small niche brand like Zenpup, the lack of scalable marketing tactics can be tough.

Instead, Zenpup is focused on growing its organic social followers producing blog content to educate consumers, its email marketing strategy and its publisher partnerships. To date, the company hasn’t paid influencers for their posts.

The CBD market is expected to reach $21.8 billion in sales by 2022 but CBD infused pet products will make up just $1.1 billion of those sales, per Brightfield Group’s projections. Pet products made up 5.1% of the market in 2018 but Brightfield expects that to decline to 3.5% in 2019.

That’s why, for a brand like Zenpup, the differentiation of being a luxury brand will be key. The company, which sells its CBD treats and sprays for between $25 to $60 a pop, recognized that many of the brands in the space come from mom-and-pop creators and use traditional cannabis trades to get the word out. Zenpup is modeled after Hims with an elevated brand proposition. By using a specific, clean aesthetic and getting celebrity influencers involved the company is aiming to be that luxury brand.

“People are over the novelty of being able to purchase some no-name brand at the gas station,” wrote Andrew Hemingway, president of Toasted Collective, an agency that has developed a programmatic approach for cannabis brands, in an email. “The brands catering their product and messaging to specific ideal customer profiles — from lux to affordable and everything in between — will rule the day.”

This story previously said Bella Hadid had promoted the brand based on information received by Digiday. This is not the case and the story has been edited to reflect this.


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