That’s Entertainvertising

Pete Hottelet and the mocketing contortionism of fake brands made real

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—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). Hottelet took a moment to e-mail with AdFreak and explain how he got into 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?

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