Brand Strategy

Why Little Chonk, an influencer-led brand, wanted to advertise on the New York City subway

For starters, the backpack for carrying dogs was partly inspired by MTA policy.
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Little Chonk

4 min read

If you, like many of us, follow dozens of influencers, you might have noticed a budding trend. Several are creating their own brands—at least according to Ian Borthwick, SeatGeek’s senior director, influencer channels.

“Emma Chamberlain is a good example,” Borthwick told Marketing Brew, explaining that she went from creating content featuring coffee to debuting her brand, Chamberlain Coffee. “Now she’s doing more in-store advertising, and I could see a world where she would eventually do full-scale advertising,” Borthwick said.

When influencers roll out their own brands, they’re lucky enough to have a built-in audience: followers. But for some select influencers, Borthwick said it makes sense to start promoting their products outside of social media, especially if they’ve been able to “prove traction” on their own channels.

Little Chonk—a new dog-backpack brand born out of Bryan Reisberg’s TikTok and his Insta-famous dog, Maxine the Fluffy Corgi—is one such brand that recently went beyond social channels to advertise.

Late last year, the brand’s founder said he approached the MTA with an idea that ultimately became an out-of-home (OOH) campaign in partnership with MTA Away, a new informational program that promotes local tourism via public transit.

It kicked off on January 2—which Little Chonk founder (and Maxine’s dad) Reisberg told us is National Pet Travel Safety Day, with dual Little Chonk and MTA Instagram and TikTok posts announcing the tie-in. The OOH ads started running on digital screens throughout NYC subway stations the same week and ran through the end of January.

The ads—which were shot with a phone camera to mimic the videos on Maxine’s social media accounts—show Reisberg and Maxine’s New York adventures, frolicking everywhere from a lighthouse underneath the George Washington Bridge to the Hudson Valley.

How it happened

Reisberg told us that when he got Maxine, he wanted to take her everywhere—which meant putting the dog in a bag to get on the subway, per MTA policy. He experimented with many a bag, but none was a great fit for the corgi. So in December 2021, he launched his own dog-backpack company called Little Chonk.

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At the time, Reisberg leveraged Maxine’s 700k Instagram and millions of TikTok followers to promote the backpack. During its December 15 debut, Little Chonk’s first bag drop sold out in four minutes, according to Reisberg (he declined to tell Marketing Brew how many bags Little Chonk has sold so far).

On January 10, soon after the MTA campaign rolled out, Little Chonk dropped its second batch of bags and sold out in under an hour, he said.

Even so, Reisberg says there was still value in running the campaign throughout the month, even once the bags had sold out, as it helped elevate mindshare for the brand, which the team measured via conversions like waitlist signups, followers on social, and DMs, as well as user-generated content.

“At this stage, we don’t think [not] having enough bags in stock is a good enough reason not to do something cool, like partner with the MTA,” Reisberg explained.

“We receive endless inbound content from followers—whether it be selfies of themselves in front of the MTA digital screens, pictures of their dogs with inferior products and their desire to upgrade with a Little Chonk, [or] screenshots of their order confirmations,” he added, noting that the Little Chonk Instagram account grew by about three thousand followers after the MTA push debuted, although he said the growth isn’t purely because of the MTA ads.

While the campaign has ended, Reisberg told us there is “mutual interest” in expanding the relationship down the line. Ultimately, Reisberg thinks having Little Chonk ads run on the MTA makes the brand seem more legit. “We think our alignment with an institution like the MTA lends credibility to our brand and takes a meaningful step in that direction,” he said.

Plus, Borthwick said Little Chonk’s ads likely stand out “in a world full of MTA ads for startups who just raised their Series C,” especially since it’s obvious why the brand is advertising there in the first place.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.