Last May, Mad.Media, the new-media arm of the postproduction advertising company Mad.House, were given a surprising inspiration for the look of the online videos they were producing for True Blood, HBO’s new series about lusty vampires in the South: Fox’s Movietone newsreels. The company that hired them to create the short, two-minute videos that were part of True Blood’s viral marketing campaign wanted them look like those old-fashioned relics of movie history that were screened in the cinemas from 1927 to 1963 and somberly covered World War II, Hollywood glamour and natural disasters. Only Mad.Media’s videos would be digital, and posted on a fictional blog called BloodCopy, authored by a character who tracks vampires and the political and social controversies that arise as they attempt to integrate with humans. But since these two-minute online videos were supposed to be roundups of news reports created by some small-town teen, rather than by experienced new-media editor Jason Howe, who has worked on projects for W Hotels and MTV, things were a little tricky. “It was hard to force mistakes to make it look like some kid was throwing things together,” said Mr. Howe, sitting in the new-media headquarters of Mad.House’s three-floor, labyrinthine office on Madison Avenue. “It had to look authentic.”
The new-media videos also had to look, well, new. Mad.Media’s 14 True Blood Webisodes, which were posted on BloodCopy.com, YouTube and HBO’s On Demand service starting in June, look a bit like campy Hard Copy news reports with a creepy, Blair Witch Project-like quality. They’ve been viewed more than two million times.
Campfire, an independent ad agency in New York, which was hired by Alan Ball and HBO to orchestrate True Blood’s entire marketing campaign, shot and recorded all the raw footage for the videos. But Campfire hired Mad.House’s new-media team to assemble the BloodCopy videos for a simple reason: Mad.Media are the new Madison Avenue Mad Men.
Khris Kline, marketing director for Mad.House, was hired in August 2007 to create Mad.House’s new-media department. Mr. Kline was previously Business Development Executive for RES Media Group, and co-founder of K2Music Inc., which offered consulting in advertising, marketing and events for music and new-media companies. Mad.House still edits traditional video commercials for brands including Pfizer, Mercedes, Citibank and Canon. But Mr. Kline and the Mad.Media team have worked on a bunch of new-media projects. Mad.House created a virtual scene for MTV’s show Laguna Beach in online world Second Life and they are working on more opportunities to get involved in the online world. They’re working on making an online, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure-like service using videos of actors to answer frequently asked questions. Mad.Media is also working with a company MegaPhone, that creates Space Invaders-like games where you can use your cell phone as a remote control.
Mr. Kline said that online marketing has become so cost-effective that brands can even make their own self-contained online channels with original content for Webisodes and blogs.
“They can be NBC, ABC, CBS,” he said. “Do they want to be? That’s the question.”
CRAIG WARNICK CO-FOUNDED Mad.House Inc. in 1992, when he bought out another postproduction house, Bender Editorial, after working as lead creative director there for more than 20 years. His partner and co-founder, Rob Tortoriello, a self-proclaimed “32-year veteran war horse of advertising in New York,” explained that the company started as a postproduction video editing house, working on campaigns for cars and soaps. A few years later, “the traditional radio, TV and print advertising pie exploded into a thousand pieces on the Web and the phone,” Mr. Tortoriello explained. “We wanted to maintain our relevancy and replace very real marketing needs for advertisers, and do it in a cost-effective way.”
Online marketing campaigns have been around since the Internet became mainstream in the mid-’90s, but Mad.Media is still teaching old-fashioned brands and ad houses exactly what the Internet can do for them. Mr. Tortoriello recently had to make a video presentation for a major food brand explaining “What is the Internet.” (Wouldn’t we all like to know!) Mad.Media’s video flashed a dizzying kaleidoscope of images from traditional advertising in print and TV. Then the video speeds up, flipping through pictures of housewives getting on the Internet to look up recipes, using their iPhones to find how-tos and shopping lists and logging on to social networking sites to share meal ideas. Mr. Tortoriello said the video is a visual representation of the company’s business model: “All media under one roof.”
The Web has been a stalwart enemy of broadcast and print advertising revenues, but Mad.Media is convincing brands that the Internet can work to their advantage. Mr. Tortoriello said that hours of material for a broadcast commercial or other production can either be stored away, “you know, in some warehouse in New Jersey and pile up like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or it can be used in relatively cheap online campaigns and be turned into games, virtual worlds, Webisodes, widgets, mobile applications for iPhones and BlackBerries, ring tones and social networking vid-eos. For other ad agencies and myriad brands, Mad.Media is becoming the go-to guys for these kinds of services. “Some see us as competition,” Mr. Tortoriello said. “Some see us as the ultimate Swiss Army knife.”