A 'New Marketing Studio' Supplies Content for Bud.TV

Omelet's Mark Vega Is Media Agnostic and in Pursuit of True Brand Entertainment

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Who: Mark Vega, partner, Omelet.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Vega is one of four partners at Omelet, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency and branded-entertainment production shop that will supply content for Anheuser-Busch's new web portal, Bud.TV. Omelet has also recently produced entertainment projects for Microsoft's Xbox Live and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Omelet's Mark Vega says client Anheuser-Busch 'sees itself as a distribution venue and as a network sees itself -- as big enough with a big enough sway to provide their consumers with interesting entertainment.'

Credentials: Before joining Omelet, Mr. Vega was an entertainment lawyer focused on the converging worlds of marketing, advertising and entertainment. He also began counseling both corporate and entertainment clients on innovative ways to integrate brands into TV, movies and live events. Before becoming involved in the legal aspects of the entertainment industry, Mr. Vega worked as a news reporter and talk-radio host. He joined former TBWA/Chiat/Day staffers Steven Amato, Shervin Samari and Ryan Fey to start Omelet nearly two years ago.

Omelet calls itself a "new marketing studio." What does that mean? "We're unique in the agency world and the entertainment-content world in that our business model is split in two. We call it the 50/50, where one half is providing marketing and advertising services to traditional brands big and small in traditional and nontraditional ways. The other half of the brain is something unique: the creation of and the exploitation of original intellectual property that we create and own in conjunction with the brand."

Does that mean you have a certain philosophy about branded entertainment or what it should look like? "Our principal philosophy is that the idea leads the medium, not the other way around. We don't start out with an agenda to make television shows. Short-form content, whether it's animation or live action, has been a great way to get your feet wet. In the world of consumer-generated content, viral videos are everything. Our primary agenda is to come up with big ideas that solve a core business problem for our client."

Who are your clients? "They range from Xbox Live and Microsoft, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Motorola, G4 Network and KB Home."

Omelet likes to emphasize that it will own the branded entertainment it creates with marketers. How will that work? "Each project is different. If we're developing content for a network, like a traditional broadcaster, we might have a development deal in place where we basically finance out of our own pocket the series or hire the writers, or get animators or illustrators on board. The studio partner pitches in money. We own it together. We then pitch it to the network and get a license fee and make the show. Other properties make sense not to launch on a traditional network, but the brand would get distribution in a unique way -- online, a series of DVDs, etc. [In those cases] we would develop properties with the brand and finance the project and we would own it together. We also want to create formats that are sellable around the world that we would both own."

What types of projects has Omelet produced so far? Two months ago, Omelet launched "Mascot Roommate," a "Jackass"-style viral-video series for Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to "cool up" the brand. The shorts, distributed on sites like YouTube, AtomFilms, IFilm and Rever, revolve around three friends who harass each another for taking a summer job as the Mr. Ice Blended mascot.

"We live in a hit-maker-mentality universe. You have content creators striving to make hits. You don't need to do that. You need to be a hit in your niche market. Coffee Bean is a Southern-California-born-and-bred brand. It doesn't need to compete with Dunkin' Donuts. Coffee Bean is never going to beat them. They have to hit the demographic or audience that will return to Coffee Bean."

In May, the company produced a party, "Xbox Live -- The Gold Experience" for gamers who couldn't get into the E3 video-game convention in Los Angeles. "E3 was not a venue for gamers. We wanted to give back to gamers that infused the essence of Xbox Live and what it means to be a gamer. It's the first time anybody had paid attention to gamers in that way."

Is there anything you're working on right now? "We're currently working on an animated series and feature film. Another angle we're looking at is the creation of products from intellectual properties that lend themselves to brand-new products. We're developing a beverage and a product in the kids space [for 4- to 10-year-olds]."

How did you get involved with Bud.TV? "We've been working with Anheuser-Busch for quite some time but never as an advertising agency. We've been working with them exclusively as a content creator. Ultimately, we've known that Anheuser-Busch sees itself as a distribution venue and as a network sees itself -- as big enough with a big enough sway to provide their consumers with interesting entertainment. All the intellectual property we did was created long ago and we've just been patient."

Will we be seeing more Bud.TV projects out there? "It's just the future. Brands now understand that they have the power to bring entertainment to consumers. The brands are pretty savvy enough that we're out of the initial phases of product placement. I'm almost ready to put that to bed. We've been saying product placement is dead and not where it's at for years now. Brands are taking entertainment into their own hands and being smart enough not to cram it down consumers' throats."

Will all of them work? "You're going to see a lot of failed attempts. It takes special brands to have the ability to pull it off. It takes the brand that ... respects and appreciates that entertainment is very different from product placement or that product placement isn't entertainment. Putting a logo on a TV show is not entertainment. You can't shove one model or one example in front of every brand. Just because one brand does a web portal doesn't mean every brand can do a web portal. Just because one brand does a reality show doesn't mean every brand can do it."

Given all this buzz about cellphone content, what are your thoughts on mobile programming? "It's not going to go away. We embrace it as an eventual distribution platform. You don't necessarily carry around a TV with you, but you carry a phone with you 24/7. It's a critical component to the lifestyle of every age bracket now. If you're not acknowledging or paying attention to that, you are ignoring a critical component of your customer's life."

How do you measure success with your projects? "If we have moved the needle ... we've done our job. If we've created content ... and consumers want to see more of that, we've done our job. It's also about retention and growth. The brands keep coming back to us. I can't tell you any brand that we used to work with."

There is still some confusion out there as to what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "In 2001, I had an answer for you. Back then that phrase had some meaning. But it quickly became like independent film. That has so many meanings and definitions now. As we enter the world of program design to reach niche markets, we don't use the words 'branded entertainment' anymore. In an abstract, it's anything that is entertainment that's driven by or has a financing structure by a corporation that services customers. Projects that have woven through them the DNA strands of your brand."

Is there an example of good branded entertainment that you've seen recently? "The reason LivePlanet's ['Fan Club: Reality Baseball' project for MSN] works is they're not blustery and saying they're taking over the world. It works for the brand. It's not going to be big and splashy. It's not for everyone. It's a great representation of targeting your specific audience."

What's a bad example? "Anytime you remember the brand more than the content of the show, that will be short-lived success for the brand. If you slap your name on a TV show and the TV show is forgettable, you have to decide whether that's a good decision for the brand."

What's on your TiVo? "The last episode of 'Six Feet Under,' five episodes of 'Dora the Explorer,' 'Charlie & Lola,' 'The Sopranos' and 'Entourage.'"

What's on your iPod? "About 6,000 [songs]. The playlist that gets the most use is 'I've Been Working on the Railroad' and kids' songs. Also, the Rolling Stones and Eddie Cochran."

What do you do on your downtime? "Banjo, baby, banjo. I'm just a novice. I've been playing for a little more than a year, but it takes five or six years to get the banjo under your belt."
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