Meet the marketing mastermind behind 'Doug the Pug,' who grew her pet's brand into a money-making empire complete with merchandise, sponsorships, and licensing deals
- Leslie Mosier is the woman behind the scenes of Doug the Pug's online fame.
- She said his brand took a lot of work to build and made very little money in the beginning.
The love of pets may be the one topic that unites the internet, which should come as no surprise considering the impact animals can have on humans. Interacting with animals has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce loneliness, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Social media has allowed people to capitalize on this by making stars out of their beloved animals — one of the earliest and most well-known examples being Doug the Pug, a six-year-old dog living in Nashville, Tennessee. Today, Doug's digital fandom includes more than 5 million followers on TikTok and Facebook, more than 3 million followers on Instagram, and 566,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Human Leslie Mosier sits at the helm of Doug's brand, having helped the adorable pooch snag not just likes but sponsorships, public appearances, and a line of merchandise.
Mosier told Insider that Doug has transformed her and husband's lives. But while they see a steady stream of revenue — Mosier said Doug's brand has allowed the family to afford a home and cover costs associated with her endometriosis treatment — she said Doug's happiness remains an ever-present focus, as does giving back to those that love him so much. Here's how Mosier and Doug got their start.
A humble beginning
Doug first entered Mosier's life in 2012 while she was a student at Belmont University, and she said she knew right away that he was special. As soon as she brought him home, he sat down to watch "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" with her.
"This dog is not like any I've had before," she said of her initial reaction.
Soon after getting him, her mom began sending him shirts to wear. Doug loved being dressed up, Mosier said, and so friends and family began suggesting that Mosier start an Instagram for him. At the time, Mosier was working in social-media marketing in the Nashville music industry.
"I feel like from the very beginning doing social-media marketing for artists, musicians was all I knew how to do," Mosier said. With that in mind, she treated Doug like she would a budding music act, regularly posting videos and photos of him on her personal Instagram and getting popular pug fan pages, including @pugsofinstagram, to share her posts.
Another crucial effort that helped Doug reach fans in the beginning was media outreach. Her first breakthrough came from Mashable writer Brian Koerber, who wrote about Doug in September 2014. Koerber has mentioned Doug in at least 18 other articles since then.
Creating consistent content was key to keeping Doug's following on the rise, Mosier said. She would create the videos and have her husband, the musician Rob Chianelli, edit them between tours. Chianelli also produced original music for Doug's videos, and he continues to perform both roles.
After inking a $500 deal with the travel platform Skyscanner in March 2015, Doug became a priority for the family, and she put in her two weeks' notice at work. "I just had a feeling I needed to be free," she said.
But Mosier said her new role came with its own set of difficulties. Convincing brands that an animal celebrity was a viable endorsement proved trying early on. She was able to turn the corner by using a first-year book and calendar sales as proof of Doug's brand value.
"We definitely lived paycheck to paycheck in the beginning, but the smartest thing we did was hire our business manager-accountant on day one," Mosier said, referring to her first hire into the Doug brand, who was recommended by a friend. "She took a chance on us, as we were making virtually nothing at the time, but saw our vision."
A viral moment takes Doug mainstream
Prospects began to change on March 26, 2015. Mosier uploaded a 56-second video of Doug wandering around outside with a pug balloon, set to the tune of Harry Nilsson's "Best Friend." It went viral in short order, racking up more than 20 million Facebook views in one day, according to Mosier. By the end of the week, Doug the Pug had more than 1 million Facebook followers and media requests for appearances on "Good Morning America" and other shows.
Mosier said she ramped up outreach efforts, reaching out to more publications, popular social-media channels, and other potential avenues for exposure. Mosier said using past brand milestones are an excellent way to meet influential media and business figures.
"It was so much easier to be able to send other press outlets emails and show them that we had success," Mosier said.
Right around the time of Doug's follower boost, Chianelli returned home from touring. The couple worked together to create more content, often incorporating movies and TV shows like "Harry Potter," "Breaking Bad," and "Friends" into the shoots. Mosier said making parodies felt right. Growing up as a fan of the "Wishbone" TV series, she always loved a dog in a costume. "That's when everything really started taking off."
Getting into licensing
With his fame on the rise, Mosier said she once again relied on her music-industry marketing experience, as well as borrowing some of the strategies behind another famous social-media figure. Using Tardar Sauce, better known as Grumpy Cat, as a business model, she began lining up an array of licensing opportunities for Doug.
Today, Doug's footprint is seen across various sponsorship and licensing agreements, including an annual calendar, puzzles, and deals with brands like Disney. The Doug the Pug plush has sold more than 500,000 units, Mosier said, while his latest book, released in 2020 by Scholastic, has sold more than 625,000 copies. Mosier said they're now working on additional books with kindness and inclusivity as the theme, expected to arrive this fall.
Growth hasn't removed the couple from the creative process. Typical days include social-media content creation, Mosier said. "We just get to go off of what Doug is up for."
To stay focused on content, they delegate various tasks to a group of six employees that include book and licensing agents, a lawyer, and a business manager. "Our goal is to keep this going and keep people really happy," Mosier said.
Collaborations with celebrities, like music videos for Fall Out Boy and Katy Perry, have helped them keep up the momentum. After Doug made an appearance in Netflix's animated comedy "Mitchells vs. The Machines," Mosier said the "ultimate dream" now seems closer than ever: a Doug-focused animated series.
A family dog through and through
Mosier emphasized that Doug is still, and always will be, the family dog. "I can't tell you how many times it doesn't register that he's famous," Mosier said. She prioritizes his health as much as his brand, feeding him a raw diet and bringing him to sessions with a herbalist. While Doug may seem exceptionally active in some videos, Mosier said that editing and filming make him appear more involved than it may seem. "He's so well taken care of and the happiest guy," she said.
Through the Doug the Pug Foundation, Doug and other therapy dogs visit children with cancer and other life-threatening conditions in hospitals. Formed in December 2020, the nonprofit has been an eye-opening experience for Mosier, who said that seeing children's smiles reminds her of Doug's real purpose: to make people happy.
"It's been an unbelievable and emotional experience and one of the most rewarding things we've done," she said.
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