When does a celebrity partner make sense for a brand? Can bringing on multiple celebrity partners in the early stages of your brand help build customer trust and brand affinity? We caught up with Anja Skodda, founder of HAPPYBOND to learn about why she activated two celebrities for her brand so early on and how they’ve been foundational moments that she has continued to build on top of.
Tony the Bulldog
Anja has a pet bulldog, Tony, who likes to skateboard. In 2018, Anja learned that Tony had arthritis in his shoulder which limited his ability to socialize with other dogs and more importantly, skateboard.
Dogs are extremely emotional animals that thrive by socializing and moving around. Anja was absolutely distraught to learn that there was not anything on the market that would help him rebuild the cartilage in his shoulder to get moving again. So, she decided to create the right solution herself.
Part collagen and part proprietary formula, Anja whipped up a supplement in her own kitchen and fed it to Tony for about a week. 8 days later, Tony was up and running around again.
The miracle-like effect her homemade supplement provided Tony was the moment Anja knew she was onto something bigger than she imagined. HAPPYBOND was introduced to the world later that year as an innovative, scientifically proven supplement product for dogs across the country.
Early Luck Strikes
A proven product was one of the many variables that would determine the commercial viability of HAPPYBOND. What Anja needed was a brand that resonated with her target customer and educated them about why legacy pet supplement brands were not enough.
To be able to convey that message in an already crowded category was going to be challenging. The truth is that most pet parents only think about supplements for their pets after something goes wrong. For so long, the pet supplements space has been geared around health cures instead of health problem prevention. This is the hill Anja would have to overcome to give her brand any relevance.
She would need to work with someone that brought credibility into the space and who had an audience that was always willing to listen.
Fight For The Right Partner
So she did. Caesar Millan was HAPPYBOND’s first celebrity endorsement. The story of how the partnership came together is just as remarkable as what the partnership enabled the brand to do in the early days.
Caesar Millan is arguably the most notable dog trainer in the world. With multiple TV shows and an audience of millions across the globe, he would go on to fill the exact need HAPPYBOND had as a young, aspiring brand.
Anja explained, “Caesar is the celebrity I envisioned meeting when I lived in Germany. I watched his shows – and his method of training dogs resonated with me. I’ve always followed his advice because it worked to train my dog. So when I moved [to the United States], I realized that I wanted to meet him.”
At this time, Anja also learned that Caesar’s personal dog, Junior, had issues with his joints. This is why HAPPYBOND was created in the first place – she knew that all she needed was a single meeting to convince Caesar to use her product for Junior.
So how does a founder from a very (very) young company land a meeting with a world-famous dog trainer? Grit. They try everything to get the attention of their perfect celebrity partner match. There is no easy play-by-play.
As Anja shared, “I messaged his management team and tried to get a meeting. It took some time and convincing. I was nudging them a lot, but in the end, they agreed that I could meet him and figure out what we’re going to do.”
After months of back and forth, Anja finally received the chance to meet Caesar. She explained to him how her supplement worked for Tony and that he should try it for Junior. Leaving that meeting, Anja knew this was the biggest opportunity to catapult HAPPYBOND to the next level and all she needed was a phone call back from Caesar saying that the supplement worked.
Weeks would go by and Anja did not receive a follow-up. Then one day, approximately 2 weeks after her original meeting with Caesar, her phone rang. It was Caesar who said the 6 words that breathed a whole new life into HAPPYBOND – “I want to work with you.”
Caesar was surprised that HAPPYBOND’s supplement worked for Junior, but beyond that, he was grateful that Anja has persistently reached out to finally get a meeting with him. Junior was off pain relief medications and back to his regular self. As a celebrity dog trainer, Caesar understood the implication of what Anja had just presented to him, but as a dog parent, it meant so much more.
The two would later go on to work together in the promotion of HAPPYBOND to Caesar’s audience members, cover press releases together and remain good friends to this day.
However, one thing remained on Anja’s mind – “where does HAPPYBOND go from here?”
The pet care/supplements industry is $160B in market size. Capturing dog lovers who followed Caesar Millan was one part of the equation, however, dog training is a very polarizing practice. Anja recognized this early on.
She explains,” People have different opinions on how to train their dogs and not everyone agrees with him. Our partnership was really just to share the story of his experience with our nutrition.”
That’s precisely what was missing from the brand in the early days – a story that people can get behind and a recognizable face that would be willing to testify to the product’s efficacy. Her mind naturally raced to the next important question – “how do I build brand affinity from here?”
What is important to note here is that Anja is not looking to leverage celebrity endorsements for the sake of sales. Instead, she’s methodically formulating a path to get the most important elements of her brand presented through a celebrity.
At this point, she had a brand that people knew worked. Now, it was time to build with a new face that everyone loved.
In thinking about what was next for her brand, Anja had a strict criteria. She explained, “I was more focused on what would fit the brand and what doesn’t polarize a lot because, to be honest, dog training is very polarizing. So people have their own opinions and they’re very strong opinions.”
In order to build a brand affinity, Anja would have to cleverly identify celebrities that have a strong liking attached to them. Working with them would be the basis on which the rest of the HAPPYBOND brand would be built. There are not many of these individuals which meant Anja would have to be extremely diligent about the next partner she worked with.
Halle Berry was the celebrity partner HAPPYBOND decided to work with at the end of the day. Although Anja couldn’t share the details of how she got in touch with Halle’s team, she did share why she was a great fit.
- Has a track record of demonstrating her love for dogs
- Has a very vocal background in wellness
- Is very well-researched and picky about the brands she works with.
What HAPPYBOND had in front of them was an opportunity to leverage one of the most influential celebrities in the world to build their brand. Beyond working with their existing product catalog, Anja also saw this as an opportunity to expand her company’s product portfolio.
She shared an early interaction with Halle Berry to highlight some of the ways they immediately thought to work together. Anja offered, “Halle said she’s preventing everything and wants her dogs to have the opportunity to have a great digestive system, have a great core and immune system. How can we build something that is preventative to them?”
That’s all the conviction Anja needed to launch her now top-selling elixir line which is a healthy plant-based pet wellness product. Back around this time, this was a brand new category for the pet wellness space. What Halle enabled HAPPYBOND to do was normalize dropping Elixir into dog foods which was a profound shift away from the traditional digestive health methods.
While in the early days of formulating the Elixir together, Anja saw an even bigger opportunity to work together with Halle. She wanted to co-brand the final Elixir product.
Anja explained, “She has a really great brand herself and that was with her wellness brand. She built Respin that has the same intention of giving people a better experience of their self-care, and wellness, and creates products that are truly unique and different. That resonated a lot with me.”
Notice that Anja did not plan out a partnership with Halle Berry that would include co-developing a product with her face on it. Instead, she was opportunistic. Many traditional brands get very star-struck in working together with celebrities which ultimately leads to a lot of wasted efforts and poor returns.
Focus on what matters and pivot as needed.
The underlying goal was to gain brand affinity and recognition. Anja started the partnership with a different goal in mind than where it ended up. This helped her stay level-headed and focused on the final outcome.
Almost 4 years after the original launch, HAPPYBOND is one of the fastest-growing pet care brands in the country. However, Anja has visions beyond just being a pet supplements brand. Next for them is combining the whole circle and innovative ways to manage a dog’s weight through a health tracker. You can stay up to date with HAPPYBOND by following them on social media or visiting their website at happybond.com.