By Rebecca Cullers on Mon Jul 26, 2010
In 2006, Pete Hottelet founded Omni Consumer Products. Named after the mega-corporation in RoboCop, the company dedicated itself to the serious business of defictionalizing fictional brands. Having rolled out real-world versions of movie and TV brands ranging from Brawndo (the energy drink from Idiocracy) to Sex Panther cologne (from Anchorman) to Tru Blood (the blood replacement beverage from True Blood) to, shortly, Stay Puft Marshmallows (from Ghostbusters), Omni Consumer Products leads the U.S. in the art of bringing products off the screen and into your life. (Its tagline: "The future of yesterday, today.") Hottelet took a moment to e-mail with AdFreak and explain how he got into the business of defictionalization and how to do it right.
Q. When did you first get the idea to start bringing fictional brands into reality? I understand you were inspired by the Swingline stapler from Office Space, which didn't come in red until after the movie and people demanded it. But what made you decide to jump into this whole world?
A. In a world with "monster" everything and "Extreme Tylenol," it was sort of inevitable. I did it because it was hilarious, but someone else would have done it if I didn't. Look at it this way: We live in a country that invented the pizza vending machine, the foot-long cheeseburger, and a chicken, bacon and cheddar cheese sandwich bereft entirely of bread. And one time we sent a man to go walk around on the moon just because we could. Yeah, the moon. That moon.
Considering I studied art in college, beverages seemed like a reasonable enough problem for a person to try and tackle. I imagine things would have gone terribly awry if I'd tried my hand at rocketry.
Q. Did you have to acquire the rights to use Omni Consumer Products as your company name?
A. We went through the whole trademark process, yeah. It's a good descriptor of what we do from a product development perspective. Beverages do amazingly well, but there's a lot of opportunity with nontraditional licensed product categories that people might not normally consider. Hence, "omni," which derives from the original Latin meaning, "You name it, we do it."
Q. I've seen the Omni Consumer Products process referred to as "defictionalization." Is that the word you'd use to describe it, and how would you define it?
A. I coined "entertainvertising" as sort of a goof on "advertainment." Scientific American referred to it as "Moebius-like-referential pop-culture-as-reality mocketing contortionism." Defictionalization is definitely more succinct, although maybe not as much fun to say. Basically, it's the act of creating or identifying a brand within a narrative, and producing a physical product of the described type bearing that branding. As viewership becomes increasingly fragmented, this sort of thing is going to grow into a standard practice in the entertainment industry. Right now, marketers have their eyes on the so-called "third screen" with a focus on mobile. Well, guess what the "fourth screen" is? Real life.
Q. Are there fake brands you've tried to acquire the rights to, but been unable to?
A. So goes the tale of Duff beer and Morley cigarettes. Alcohol and tobacco are sort of a sticky wicket, it turns out. Also, firearms. Or just products that might result in unsavory shenanigans, like a Dexter-branded knife-and-garbage-bag set, or a Black Mesa crowbar from Valve's Half-Life. Let me rephrase that—when I say "unsavory shenanigans," I mean manslaughter.
Q. You approached Picnicface, a Canadian comedy troupe, who had viral success with their own fake drink, Powerthirst, and had them riff off their Powerthirst commercials in ads for Brawndo, the fake drink from Idiocracy that you made real. The levels of meta there blow my mind, but from an advertising standpoint, were you worried people might not realize Brawndo now actually existed?
A. The guys from Picnicface are great to work with. Mark Little is a genius. I don't think there was really a concern about product confusion—it was more about making some epic clips. A 300-foot-tall pony? Covered in chainsaws? Yeah, we went there. Shaving your chest with a lawnmower? Check. Fistfight with a grizzly bear? You got it. I think what's really funny about all this is that this marketing approach is now getting incorporated into actual campaigns for real brands. Made by serious companies. Clearly, the gauntlet has been thrown. One of us will have to ride a wildebeest across the English Channel.