Over the last five years, our team at BARK has executed a range of partnerships that look a bit strange when you list them out together: The Grinch, WWE, Scooby Doo, Subaru, Univ. of Texas, Peanuts, Anheuser-Busch, Disney, Netflix, NBA, Sesame Street, Ohio State, YETI, Spider-Man, Shake Shack, Glossier, Dunkin’, Dr. Seuss… and more. Our philosophy is if there are dog people who are passionate or nostalgic about a partner, then most likely, those folks will want their dog to have a version just for them. Our dogs are happy when we’re happy, and vice versa, so it’s an endless loop of happiness in togetherness. Our journey into licensing started in 2018, as Universal Pictures was launching their animated film, The Grinch. We thought the beloved Dr. Seuss tale with its iconically grumpy anti-hero, loyal pet dog Max, and cast of quirky characters could be as much of a hit with pups as their people. From the BARK perspective, it was about how our dogs are all the trusty Max to our crabby, curmudgeon selves. A collaborative plan was hatched and the resulting boxes of goodies–a Grinch with a gift in his hands, Fred the Reindeer, Max’s wearable Antlers, and treat bags with grouchy titles like “Roast Beast: One Lamb For You, All for Me”—delivered. “Naturally, there was a little apprehension and risk at first, but The Grinch partnership turned out to be objectively amazing,” said Elliott May, BARK’s VP of Licensing and Brand Development. “We welcomed more new subscribers compared to other months, the Net Promoter Scores were above average and we had a lower customer acquisition cost (CAC). So we said, hey, we should do this more often and do it strategically.” From this first test, and following an incredibly popular partnership with Glossier in 2019, we became keenly aware of the fun and power of making dog versions of the things humans love. You’re here reading this, so you know and love that sweet head tilt of comprehension your dog gives you when you speak your tribal love language, be it “Roll Tide,” “Good Grief,” or “May the Force Be With You.” And according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, you’re not alone: 75% of dog owners view their dog as a bona fide member of the family. “What we always want to do at BARK is bring our dogs in on a shared experience, whether it’s nostalgia for an old film, sports fandom, or a trip to the spa,” says May. Since the first licensed projects, we’ve rounded up a wildly diverse partnership pack representing a range of pop cultural interests in the arenas of fashion, film, food and beverage, sports, and more. Tapping into the passion of committed fan bases of juggernauts like Disney, Dunkin’, NBA, NASCAR, Sesame Street, Warner Bros., and many others is a highly effective growth strategy that introduces BARK to new audiences and demographic niches while also delighting our existing subscribers. “From a subscription volume perspective, our top three months that we’ve ever had have all been anchored by licensed product initiatives,” says May. In Q4 of 2021, licensed product accounted for 38% of all new subscriptions at a lower than budgeted CAC. Ideas for partnerships come from all departments internally and May maintains regular dialogue with external parties about their product launch timelines and anniversaries to potentially celebrate. The best ideas from that big idea pool are evaluated and analyzed considering audience reach data, search trends, etc., and also by asking the simple gut check question: is there an actual special BARK-quality product to be developed where we can give dogs and their people a fun, silly, and surprising storytelling experience? Despite brilliant or universally beloved intellectual property, it doesn’t always make sense. There must be a storytelling moment with a BARK wink.
With every partnership, we make sure that the product meets our quality and design standards while making sure the products are incredibly functional and fun. We also strive to approach these partnership ideas not as employees of BARK, but as dog people. Is it something we would be excited about for our own dogs? Every partnership has a fun element of storytelling since social media and the shareable moment between dogs and people is integral to our success. We’re not here to make toys for partners, we’re partnering with other brands to make moments for dog people.View this post on Instagram
“It’s a different business model for a different company to be doing e-commerce with a drop-down menu for a long list of licensed products. That could be a good business model for others, but it’s not ours. We want every release we do to have the full focus and attention of the BARK touch,” says May.View this post on Instagram
Partnership structures and strategies indeed run the gamut. “Peanuts and Snoopy, for example, fall into that Venn diagram of dog-oriented, beloved characters that fit really well, with broad awareness, and are talked about every holiday season,” says May. Contrast that with the more tactical approaches they’ve taken with WWE’s storied characters, or the massive fan bases of collegiate teams like Ohio State and the University of Texas, which were primarily forged to attract new audiences. “With both strategies, we’ve had great experiences, great product and NPS scores.” Infusing our strong brand voice, we have a lot of fun with clever conceptual riffing through the entire marketing process all the way up to Instagram captions. With the Peanuts package, we served Charlie Brown’s catchphrase as “Good Beef” treats. Instead of straightforward Sesame Street character toys, we delivered Sesame Street Food with Bert Dogs and Ernie Burgers. Dogs, like Dolly Parton, are one thing everyone can agree on during these difficult and divise times (cat and hamster people can have YouTube). The stunning stats: Recent dog ownership surveys estimate that 63.4 million households—that’s 53% of all households—have a dog. And you’ve surely read plenty about skyrocketing pandemic pet adoption rates. That potential market size equals tantalizing opportunities, and the product release calendar is hopping all the way through 2024. “We’re currently in the fortunate position of having more licensing opportunities than we have time to activate, but we’re always thinking ahead,” says May. “There are a lot of food and beverage brands that we’d love to work with like Taco Bell and Domino’s, for example, that we think would be a great match. The music world is another space we’d like to explore.”View this post on Instagram
The primary area where third party partnerships have come to life have been through BarkBox toys up to this point, but May expects to see more integration with BARK Eats and BARK Bright in the future, both in direct to consumer channels as well as through our retail relationships. Interested in partnering with BARK? Contact Elliott May or Dave Stangle! Design Team Behind BARK's Licensed Partnerships: Derek Rippe, Claudia Miranda Montealegre, Benjamin Griswold, Anthony LambertyView this post on Instagram