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A Burlington Marketing Company Goes to the Dogs

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From left, Leah Fishman, Aaron Band, Guy Derry, Douglas Schatz, with Oak - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew thorsen
  • From left, Leah Fishman, Aaron Band, Guy Derry, Douglas Schatz, with Oak

Name: Sniff & Barkens
Job: Dog lifestyle brand marketing
Town: Burlington

Two things set Sniff & Barkens apart from the numerous other marketing agencies based in Burlington: The company functions solely on social media, and it does so with dogs. That is, Sniff & Barkens incorporates canines — and the occasional other critter — into its messaging. The results are not traditional sell-this-product advertising, but narrative content dispersed on Facebook and Instagram. While brand names may not even appear in the company's postings, they associate brands with the genuine love people have for their pets.

"Our goal is to create authentic stories, but the brand awareness is there," says Sniff & Barkens' CEO Guy Derry.

Aligning one's brand with dogs isn't just warm and fuzzy. Market research has demonstrated that most people have, as the company's website puts it, "measurable psychological reactions ... when [they] see dogs, which translates to heightened positive emotional states." And here's the crux: "These positive feelings fuel brand affinity, awareness, engagement and, most importantly, help drive sales."

For example, Sniff & Barkens created an original video on Facebook for Hartz, maker of pet-care products, which "celebrates the outdoor lifestyle and fun we share with our dogs." "Professional border collie" Rumor frolics with his human, romps in the woods, goes for a swim, rides in the car and generally looks happy AF. While many of the company's videos are silent, in this case Rumor "talks" about his life via a male voiceover. Only at the end does the Hartz logo briefly appear.

Not all Sniff & Barkens' clients are pet-related. For the online florist 1-800-Flowers, the company ran a Valentine's Day Instagram contest with pics of cute pups.

While enhancing clients' brands and bottom lines brings in the bacon, the company also supports animal rescue and adoption nonprofits and hosts a number of pet-related stories on its website. A lot of dog lovers out there seem to be paying attention.

Derry, 32, explained that the founder of Sniff & Barkens is family friend Joe Pappalardo, a former New York City fragrance industry executive, children's advocate and dog lover who's now retired in Florida. Two other partners in the company also live out of state. Derry, a designer and web developer, was tasked with making the "dog lifestyle brand" concept a reality.

To learn more, Seven Days met up with him, content creator Leah Fishman, 26; social media strategist Aaron Band, 24; and video editor Douglas Schatz, 28, at the coworking space Study Hall in downtown Burlington. Fishman's Great Pyrenees mix, Oak, was also in attendance.

SEVEN DAYS: How did the idea for Sniff & Barkens come about?

GUY DERRY: It started with a shared love of dogs. There is a lot of content out there about dogs, but a lot of it is not of high quality. We wanted to do it in a way that rose above cheeseball.

SD: How do clients find you?

GD: The larger our following, the more requests we get. Our social media following is bigger than all of the major pet brands.

AARON BAND: I look at dog content on social media all day, and I ask people if they're interested in using dogs. We've had success because we know they're interested.

GD: Our storytelling process works really well.

SD: How many followers are we talking?

GD: The follower audience of accounts in our influencer network, which are the accounts we work on for stories and client campaigns, is 6.4 million. With [those] and official brand channels combined, our overall network reach is nine-plus million followers. [All the accounts are linked on Sniff & Barkens' website.]

SD: Where does the content come from?

LEAH FISHMAN: Most of our content comes from social media. Most of my day is spent on Instagram and Facebook. I search [dog-related] hashtags. I reach out to posters and get their stories. Most people are happy to work with us.

GD: We source the video, Doug edits it, Leah writes. The challenge is to piece together a narrative.

SD: You cite some statistics about native advertising, aka storytelling, on your website — that it "registers 9% higher lift for brand affinity and 18% higher lift for purchase intent than traditional display advertising." Does that come from national survey data?

GD: Yes. The second something comes across as not a pushy ad — if you can get a good story, it's not as offensive feeling.

SD: How do clients measure success?

GD: It's brand awareness, an awareness factor. If you develop a new partnership with Sniff & Barkens, it's tapping into a new audience who aren't necessarily already following your brand.

AB: Dog people trust dog people.

SD: When did the company start?

GD: August 2015. Last spring we had a eureka moment, to go direct to social media.

AB: The main focus is video. It's really shareable. You're just in the story immediately. People see [the videos] when they're in between things, scrolling [through social media].

SD: What's your main demographic?

GD: Female, 25 to 55 years old.

SD: What about using other animals besides dogs?

LF: I don't shy away from stories with cats, sheep, llamas and kids. "Unlikely friendship" stories are always popular — for example, a dog and a kitten.

SD: I noticed the Valentine's Instagram contest with dogs. Do you do a lot of those?

GD: They're very seasonal, attached to tent-pole holidays like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day ... We also did a Fall for Adoption campaign and gave away money [to the Bissell Pet Foundation].

SD: Aside from Oak, do you all have dogs?

AB: My 15-year-old Wheaton terrier passed this year.

DOUG SCHATZ: I don't own a pet, but I dog-sit for my parents.

GD: I'm a cat lover. I have a 12-year-old cat named Sable.


The original print version of this article was headlined "Aww-some Advertising"