Altoids Pokes Fun at Itself With 'Brainstorm'

Mint Brand Takes Starring Role in Online, Mobile Series About Advertising Antics

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Imagine a comedy series built around internal rivalries, bad client pitches and every conceivable behind-the-scenes goings-on at an ad agency. You've got the everyman art director, the cocky jerk that management has hired to revive the struggling business and, obviously, the girl. What else is missing? A cool, edgy brand.

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'Brainstorm' is an original web series that spoofs ad agencies.

Back in October, Mike Wallen, VP-creative director for Fox Mobile Studios, was on the hunt for a brand to star in "Brainstorm," an original series the studio developed for web and mobile platforms along with Los Angeles-based creative and entertainment shop Omelet, that lampoons the industry's suits and creatives.

Several months later, he found a willing and compelling star in Altoids, the "Curiously Strong" mint candy that enjoyed a rebirth in the 1990s after being discovered by the young, hip and urban. While the product still resonates with that crowd, the Wrigley-owned brand wanted to shake things up a bit, according to Mr. Wallen.

"Let's take the tin out of the drawer and put it back on the desk," Mr. Wallen said, referring to the mint's iconic and quirky red containers. "This effort was something edgy to turn the brand on its nose."

Audience-building efforts for "Brainstorm" began earlier this month, showing up in all the major social-media outlets, including Twitter, where the show's characters post. Fox is also driving PR, in addition to running banner-display and page-takeover ads on the online video destination Altoids will additionally promote the series on its website.

A million views for a single branded entertainment video would be considered successful by any standard, Mr. Wallen said, but he's hoping the series' eight episodes will garner 2.5 million views over a six-month period. "Easy to Assemble," a web series starring actress Illeana Douglas which debuted last fall and appears on, has a million viewers and counting.

The series is the brainchild of Mr. Wallen, a former agency exec on the creative side of the business. Inspired by the growing popularity of TV shows set in office environments, he sought to weave a narrative around the back story behind client pitches and campaign work.

Taking punches
"We just want to tell the fun and crazy stories that are behind the scenes at ad agencies -- it's a group of ad execs and creatives that are so bad at what they do it's funny. They're struggling so much, they're so desperate and the desperation has an effect on their ideas and creatives," he said.

All of which means the team behind Altoids needs some thick skin to sit in the middle of all the provocative jokes, whether it's an African-American team member suggesting a pitch for Altoids around the headline "White power," or using the suggestive powers of a pitchman with the face of a rear end to convey the dire need for minty breath.

The crude humor can help elevate the brand's irreverence and edginess, so Altoids "has to take some punches," Mr. Wallen said.

"Brainstorm" marks Fox Mobile Studios' first branded-entertainment endeavor. But already, Mr. Wallen has some opinions on how to approach content-meets-advertising.

"It has to be a great entertainment piece, a funny show before it's a brand campaign. If it's not a funny show, or a great story, it doesn't matter what brand is involved. No one is going to watch it," he said.

When it feels forced, consumers will be turned off, but since "Brainstorm" is a show about advertising, it's only natural that a brand would play a central role. "It would only add credibility and texture and a sense of realism to have a real brand play and be involved," Mr. Wallen said.

"Brainstorm" will make its debut Sept. 28 on, and more than a week later will be distributed to outlets such as YouTube and MySpace and through mobile providers AT&T, Sprint and others.

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