In this episode, Stacy sits down with Mark Viniello, who is both a special effects make-up artist and an entrepreneur.
He has worked on hit tv shows and films, such as Stranger Things and Lord of The Rings, and has now gone on to create his own business, Enchantails, which sells mermaid tale-turned sleeping bags. The two discuss Mark’s experience in Hollywood, as well as what inspired him to create Enchantails, and his future plan to turn his brand creation into an animated series.
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Welcome to Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them). I’m Stacy Jones, the founder of influencer marketing and branded content agency, Hollywood Branded. This podcast provides brand marketers a learning platform for topics for us to share their insights and knowledge on topics which make a direct impact on your business today. While it is impossible to be well-versed on every topic and strategy that can improve bottom line results, my goal is to help you avoid making costly mistakes of time, energy, or money, whether you are doing a DIY approach or hiring an expert to help. Let’s begin today’s discussion.
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them). Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.
Stacy Jones (00:36):
Welcome to Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them). I’m Stacy Jones, and I’m so happy to be here with you all today. I want to give a very warm welcome to Mark Viniello. Mark is both an entrepreneur and a special makeup effects artist who has worked on turning actors into the creatures you’ve seen in hit films and TV shows, including Stranger Things, Avengers: Infinity War, Lord of the Rings, Where the Wild Things Are, True Blood, and many more. Inspired by one of his daughters to graft her own magic mermaid tale from a project she was working on, Mark’s wife invented the absolutely adorable mermaid tale-turned sleeping bag, Enchantails. And now, using his experience of working in Hollywood, he’s in the midst of turning his brand creation into his own animated series.
Stacy Jones (01:21):
Today, we’re going to talk about Mark’s experiences in Hollywood and how to create and successfully market a brand from an idea on screen for thousands of young girls around the country. We’ll learn what’s worked from Mark’s perspective, what should be avoided, and how some businesses miss the mark. Mark, welcome. So happy to have you here today.
Mark Viniello (01:40):
Thank you, Stacy. I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Stacy Jones (01:42):
Of course. I just want you to say that I want to go back to being a little girl and I want my own Enchantails. It is a phenomenal invention. I wish I had that when I was little.
Mark Viniello (01:54):
We’ve heard that a lot from a lot of parents and some uncles and stuff that just wish that… I didn’t realize how universal the thought was even years ago when we were kids, but we’ve heard that a lot. We’ve heard from college kids. Do these come in adult sizes? And I’m like, “No.”
Stacy Jones (02:09):
Yeah. I think you have a whole avenue there because think of how much [inaudible 00:02:13] you can get for your daughter a little Disney dress when you go, but you can also get the big girl dress to wear at her side. So you have something that you could expand it to.
Mark Viniello (02:23):
We’ll do that on phase two once we get this going. We also had a request for other ones for boys. And there are boy characters in our stories, but we haven’t actually made those characters into sleeping bags yet. But again, that’s on the table as well.
Stacy Jones (02:40):
Awesome. Well, Mark, can we start off by sharing with our listeners today a little bit more about it and how you got to where you are today both as a special makeup artist, effects artist, and as well as an entrepreneur?
Mark Viniello (02:56):
Sure. So ever since I was a little kid, I loved monsters and I loved monster movies. My grandmother helped raise me and she knew all the black and white monster movies. So I would watch them with her and she would explain that this is Boris Karloff. It’s not really Frankenstein’s monster. That’s not really [inaudible 00:03:11] Bela Lugosi. And one actor she would talk about was a guy named Lon Chaney Sr. He was known as the man of a thousand faces. He was a silent actor and he was an excellent actor, but he was also a very gifted makeup artist. So his appearance changed drastically from film to film. And that really just struck a nerve with me. And I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool. This guy can become someone else.” So as a little kid, I started sticking stuff to my face and trying to look, “I’m a monster.” When most kids were playing sports or doing cars and stuff, I’m in my basement gluing crap to my face, trying to screw it on.
Stacy Jones (03:48):
You were that child.
Mark Viniello (03:49):
I was that child, yes. And my parents were like, “This is odd, but he’s staying out of trouble, so we’ll let him go with it.” And as you get older, you see those monster magazines and then you start reading about that there are people, makeup artists, that do this in Hollywood in New York. And my whole life, even going through high school, didn’t date anybody, didn’t go to any schools. I was in my basement, sculpting my monsters and gluing stuff to my face. And I thought I had to move to California. I want to do this for a living. So in 1993, I packed up my car and I drove across country to pursue this bizarre dream on making monsters for movies. And I was persistent. I didn’t give up. And I would evaluate what’s working and not working. And once someone hired me, I would not ever get out again. Once my foot’s in that door, I’m staying. And that’s almost 30 years ago and I’m still here.
Stacy Jones (04:39):
So did you have formal training? I know obviously from the time of Hollywood childhood on up to becoming an adult, you were practicing and practicing in your garage. You were hiding in your room and creating these awesome features. But did you end up having formal training to teach you along the way?
Mark Viniello (04:58):
Now, there’s a lot of schools and there’s a lot of online classes, a lot more resources when I was doing this. I did go to a state school in New York called SUNY Purchase, State University of New York at Purchase, which is a very prestigious art school. And the great thing about Purchase was that they allowed students to explore their creativity. So when Purchase’s charter was made, a lot of the money went to the arts. But in the charter, it said, “You have to give equal money to the other programs as well.” So they’ve got an excellent biology, psychology, liberal. They have all these other programs that are just as good as their arts and their arts are top notch.
Mark Viniello (05:33):
So when I went there, I was trying to figure out, what do I major in? There’s sculpture classes, there’s drama classes, there’s makeup classes, but it’s only for the drama students. But there is a program they had called the BALA which is a Bachelor of Arts within Liberal Arts umbrella. So for example, for normal people, if you wanted to draw diagrams in a biology book, you would take your art classes but you would also be allowed to take biology classes. And they found this way to be this interdisciplinary if what you wanted to do fit. So I can’t believe I did this. I went before the board and I said, “Look, I want to be a makeup effects artist.”
Mark Viniello (06:08):
And my example was, “If I want to use a gorilla suit for a film like in films like Gorillas in the Mist, I have to know the biology of a gorilla and why lowland gorillas look a certain way or mountain gorillas. And I also have to sculpt because when you make the costume, you’ve got to sculpt, you’ve got to paint, you’ve got to run the foam latex to make the face and do this makeup.” And they bought it. They were like, “Okay, that sounds great. You can do it.” I’m like, “Cool.” But back to your question, formal training to be a makeup effects artist? No. A lot of it was on a job, but Purchase, I was exposed to some excellent sculptors and just amazingly creative people that encouraged me to do this crazy dream even though they hadn’t come across somebody like me before. So that was really my only training, is just what I could do on my own. But now there’s schools, there’s tutorials, there’s YouTube videos. There’s all kinds of things for kids that want to get in this industry.
Stacy Jones (07:02):
There’s even TV shows, series like Face Off that they’ve created.
Mark Viniello (07:06):
I worked behind the scenes on Face Off.
Stacy Jones (07:08):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). There you go.
Mark Viniello (07:10):
So yeah, I’m very familiar with the show and what was great about that is that it did show the steps that go in and it’s a lot. The deadlines were atrocious. Again, watching the show, I’ve got anxiety because I don’t know how those kids deal with those contestants. I mean, that’s a meat grinder, what they had them do. So it was very, very impressive seeing the talent that came off the show.
Stacy Jones (07:32):
Well, I think there’s always a pressure just being on a reality show and then the task that you have to do. It really ups the ante. And I know a lot of our listeners have no idea how fast the world and land of television actually is. Super fast where you’re getting 10 to 13 episodes just banged down into a matter of days each instead of not weeks of your standard scripted series.
Mark Viniello (07:58):
Yes. And even then talking to some of the contestants later, they’re like, “It’s amazing watching the episode aired because it was shot over three days.” An episode was shot in three days and they’re like, “There was so much more that happened that they just truncated it to a half hour, an hour, whatever the show was. And I said, “I know. Welcome to showbiz, kids.”
Stacy Jones (08:19):
So awesome college. You hiked out your own way and you set off basically and opening the doors and navigating special effects makeup. How did you open the doors there? How did you get your first gig?
Mark Viniello (08:34):
So when I got out here, it was right after a writers’ strike. So nobody was hiring. So I was bussing tables. I mean, I’m the type of person that whatever I need to do to survive, I will. So I bussed tables. I remember all the odd jobs I had, but I still kept calling shops. I had a list of makeup effects shops and I basically wore them down. Well, to back up a little bit, bussing tables is awful and my hat’s off to anybody that does that. That is a really hard job. And I thought, “Why am I in California bussing tables? I know nobody’s hiring right now because of writers’ strike. There’s got to be something I can do.” So I applied at a store called Cinema Secrets. This was around October time and they’re a makeup store and they’re in Burbank. They’re very well known.
Stacy Jones (09:17):
I used to have an office right across the street from them and I’ve Dracula teeth and things like that.
Mark Viniello (09:21):
Stacy Jones (09:21):
It was fun.
Mark Viniello (09:24):
Yeah. I went there and I interviewed because they have their Halloween makeover where they would have people come in and they’d pay a makeup artist and that’s where I started. And it was from there. My first professional job was with a makeup effects artist named Mark Shostrom who worked on every nail on the street too. He’s OG. You read about him in the magazines and he had a music video and an independent film called Love is a Gun with Eric Roberts, Kelly Preston, and R. Lee Ermey. That’s my first film I worked on with him and then a Nine Inch Nails music video. And that was kind of cool because I got to meet Nine Inch Nails and hang out with them and I got to meet those actors. I was still like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Mark Viniello (10:00):
And then February 25th, 1994, I got a phone call from Tom Woodruff Jr. from Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated and said, “We’re recruiting up for two films called the Santa Claus and Mortal Kombat. We’d like to hire you.” I’m like, “Great,” because I was down to $50 in my bank account. I was on the phone with my dad saying, “I may have to come home because I can’t afford to live out here. It’s not happening.” And literally, he clicked through and I’ve been working ever since.
Stacy Jones (10:28):
There. You just put it out to the universe of, “Okay, up to you,” and it came through.
Mark Viniello (10:34):
I did that a lot, especially on my way out here. So I’ll tell you a little story. My last film I saw in New York was Jurassic Park. First Jurassic Park. And when that film was announced, I was over the moon. I was familiar with the book. I heard Stan Winston was making the dinosaurs. I waited a year for this film to come out. And June 11th, 1993, I went to the movies with college friends, family, and we all sat and watched Jurassic Park because they knew this was my last film. I left a month later. And at the end of the film, I stood up in the theater, I just declared out loud. I said, “I’m going to work on the Sequel.” I said to everybody, “I’m going to work on the sequel of Jurassic Park.” Now, mind you, I’m 22 years old. I have never worked on any Hollywood film. I had a better chance being abducted by space aliens than working on anything in Hollywood, let alone the unannounced sequels of the biggest film that year.
Mark Viniello (11:21):
Six years later, I’m working for Stan Winston Studios, which was a dream come true. We were wrapping up Austin Powers through The Spy Who Shagged Me. And I see forklifts coming in through the bay doors with these giant molds. And I’m like, “What is that?” And someone said, “We’re green lit for Jurassic Three. We got a year.” And I’m like, “No, wait, we’re doing Jurassic Three?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I was so excited. And Stan Winston actually picked me and allowed me to dress up as one of the dinosaurs in the film and chase people around on set. So not only did I get to work on the film, I got to play a dinosaur as well. So dreams can come true. And I do tell that or I try to tell that to everybody because if I was a ridiculous bowl, you can do anything.
Stacy Jones (12:02):
You did it. You visualized it. You came out there and you got it.
Mark Viniello (12:05):
Stacy Jones (12:05):
Congratulations on that.
Mark Viniello (12:07):
Thank you. Thank you. So that was awesome.
Stacy Jones (12:09):
And so I have to ask this question just because my whole world is about brands working with movies. And what has your experience been? Has there been cosmetic brands or other types of brands that have helped you along your way of making [crosstalk 00:12:28]?
Mark Viniello (12:28):
Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. You’re always looking for new and better materials and a lot of the cosmetic companies, there are some really big ones. And there is a company in New York called Alcone. And they’re a makeup supply company. They supply things for Broadway. And even when I was a little kid, I would call them because they were local. I was being back East and they would be… I’m 13. I’m like, “I’ve 10 bucks. Can I order a quarter of latex?” Like, “Absolutely, Mr. Viniello.” They treated me so well and so nice even though I’m nobody. But then I stayed in touch them. I became friends with the owners and they talk about their kids, guys like me that would call that are now ME and Oscar winner makeup artists that would call them and they were wonderful to everybody. So Alcone had some great… They had a lot of great makeup brands.
Mark Viniello (13:13):
Specific brands, there were some special effects companies or brands that work with certain foam latexes and composites and epoxies and things. But it’s always changing and I’ll take whatever it is needed to do the work. Whatever the work calls for, I’ll find the appropriate brand to utilize for that.
Stacy Jones (13:29):
That’s great. So you have now gone down the path and I think one of the… You had two on your resume that just stood out for me, shows that I love one. One [inaudible 00:13:41] and then the other, of course, Stranger Things. Right? You had a massive, massive hand in Stranger Things to my understanding.
Mark Viniello (13:52):
So I’m working for a company called Spectral Motion. Spectral Motion is a makeup effects company. It’s owned by Mike and Mary Elizalde and they have been doing stuff for the Hellboy films and I’ve known Mike for almost 30 years. We’ve worked on the Santa Claus together. He was in the mechanical department. And then he formed Spectral Motion. And we’d always talked about working together one day but it never timed out. So when it did time out, this was after True Blood, I came in to work at Spectral Motion. And one of the projects that came in was Stranger Things. And at the time, it was called an Untitled Duffer Brothers Project. The guys are the Duffer Brothers. And we met them and they’re great. They’re children of the ’90s, but they are huge fans of the ’80s. They’re ’90s guys but they love the ’80s. They wanted to do old practical stuff and the scripts read great. And the Demogorgon was a major character that we had to do. We had to figure out how to do this.
Mark Viniello (14:47):
We didn’t do the designs. The designs came from [inaudible 00:14:49] company, but it was our job to take those designs and make them into a person and a costume. Schedule was very short. The budget wasn’t huge. I mean, again, at this time, you don’t know what the phenomenon it was going to be. You had no clue. You just thought, “Oh, this is cool little project,” and you go do it.
Stacy Jones (15:06):
No. And we talk to brands about doing partnerships, product placement, and they’re like, “This untitled film, who knows?”
Mark Viniello (15:14):
You don’t know. Nobody knows. And that’s the thing that tripped me out. I flew back and forth to Atlanta a few times to [inaudible 00:15:23] on setting the actor, Mark Steger, who played Demogorgon. And when it dropped, I was visiting family back east. And my cousin works for Hasbro. And she was giving me a tour. And everybody there was talking about Stranger Things. And I’m like, “The Netflix show?” And they’re like, “Yeah, it dropped last night.” And everyone’s just going on and on about it. And I was kind of taken aback because I had never worked on a project that was just everywhere at once and everyone’s talking about it at the same time. And I worked on some big shows but not like this. It was very strange, my first Netflix show. So that was kind of striking that, “Wow, this is a big thing.” And then it became the phenomenon that it is today.
Stacy Jones (16:05):
You helped bring to life a creature that I think haunts many people.
Mark Viniello (16:09):
He shouldn’t haunt anybody. He’s just misunderstood.
Stacy Jones (16:14):
Well, then through travels and this and that, you ended up one day working on in a film that happened to have had an enchanted mermaid.
Mark Viniello (16:28):
Stacy Jones (16:29):
And how has this changed your life? How has this-?
Mark Viniello (16:32):
Stacy Jones (16:32):
Because you have created a really cool creature.
Mark Viniello (16:38):
Thank you. Well, let me back up a little bit. So getting married and having kids was really a big change for me. As a single guy who made monsters, when Lord of the Rings came around, I was single at the time. And Y2K was a big scare and they’re like, “Everyone’s going to be eyes on New Zealand because it’s the first industrialized country to get light of the new millennium.” So if anything is going to go wrong, it’s going to go wrong in New Zealand first. I’m like, “Sign me up. I’ll be ground zero. I’m in my 20s, no problem.” And everything happens. But then as you get older, you mellow out, you have kids, you have responsibilities.
Mark Viniello (17:11):
So I’m the father of daughters. And what I would do with my kids is I would play games with them, but I wouldn’t… Of course, I can’t play normal games. I’ve got to make costumes and masks and we do this whole role playing game and they’re the heroines and I’m the monster. And they got to fight the monster and all this stuff. So we would do that. And when I was working on Adam Sandler’s film, Bedtime Stories, I was subcontracted by an excellent makeup effects artist, Tony Gardner, and his company, Alterian. And I was in charge of helping them make some of the castings, the molds, and one of them was this mermaid tail that Keri Russell was going to play. She plays a mermaid in the film for a very brief scene. But my daughter, Ava, who was five at the time was a rabid little mermaid fan. Would watch it, would act it out. When she’s crying, she would pretend to cry, and I was like, “Okay.” So she likes mermaids. I have a mermaid tail.
Mark Viniello (17:56):
“Ava, come in here.” And she climbed in the thing, and of course, it’s too big for her and she’s trying to flip her tail but it looks like there’s an alien popping out halfway through because her feet don’t go to the tail, and I couldn’t get her out of the thing. And I’m like, “Ava, we got to drop this off.” And then every day, at least 10 times a day, she would say, “Daddy’s going to make me a mermaid tail. Daddy, can you make me a mermaid tail? Dad, when can I get my mermaid tail?” And I was like, “Fine, I’ll make you a mermaid tail.”
Mark Viniello (18:20):
And at the time, there was no products out there like this. And I wouldn’t do it the way we would do it for a film which is make a mold, you sculpt it and you cast it. I’m like, “By the time I’m about done with that, you’re going to outgrow it.” These kids grow really fast. So I said, “What can I do?” So I got some sheet foam. I just spray-glued a little tail together. And she fit in, would crawl around the house, would wash the little mermaid flipper tail and wouldn’t… That’s all she did all day. I’m like, “Hey, you can take the tail off, walk into the other room and then put it back on,” but she wanted to crawl. And then her sisters wanted tails. But they had to be different than their sisters. “I want my tail to look like this.” Okay. So I made their tails.
Mark Viniello (18:56):
And then they started asking me, “Where do I live in the ocean?” And I’m like, “The Mariana Trench,” which is the only location in the ocean I knew. And I explained a little bit, it’s the deepest part of the ocean. So that’s where the mermaids are because we can’t get down there and see it. So that’s where they hide. And then they started to ask me more. So I started telling more stories and it kind of grew from there. And I thought, “Kids might kind of dig this especially with parents that are an effects artist who can’t make tails. Do I want to make a swim tail? I could.” But then I thought, “I don’t want…” And now they’re everywhere, the swim tails, but at the time, there weren’t any and I thought, “I don’t want some knucklehead to put their kid in a swim tail and then throw them into the deep end of the pool thinking the tail is going to make them swim.”
Mark Viniello (19:38):
Now, even with a disclaimer, I don’t want that. And I thought, “Well, the film was called Bedtime Stories.” And I love telling bedtime stories to my kids. And I know a lot of people do and a lot of people don’t do it anymore. Not as big as it used to be. And I thought, “Well, what if we had a mermaid tail sleeping bag and we had a story the parent could read to the kid and the character in the book, this tail would match the tail the kid’s sleeping in.” And I said, “So how can we bring the story off the page?” Which is what I did with my girls. So one of the things I started thinking about, “What can we put in the stories that would incorporate into bags?” So in the stories, when the mermaids use their special powers, their tails glow. So we quilted the bags with glow in the dark thread, again, to try and do something to bring the story off the page and really get something to inspire to.
Mark Viniello (20:21):
And then I wanted to teach kids as well because I figured the best way that kids learn is when they’re entertaining, they don’t realize they’re learning. When they’re aged in the story, they’ll remember details that are amazing. So we put real world facts into all the stories. Relocations, endangered animals, and we did want to do a conservation message, which is very important to us. Because tomorrow’s conservation is today’s kids. And again, the stories are inspiring. And again, as the father of four daughters, I wanted to give them something that they could aspire to be and set up these stories with challenges and decisions and hard decisions that did show morality, integrity, character things like that. So that was kind of how it went when we started trying to make it a reality.
Stacy Jones (21:07):
And now you have a business. It is very much…
Mark Viniello (21:12):
It is, but it was daunting. I mean, the biggest advice I can give is the hardest thing for me is you don’t know what you don’t know. And making stuff with my contacts and my resources, I feel that I had a little bit of a leg up than other people that try to do entrepreneurial things like how to get prototypes made, and where do you go for artwork? I know all of those people. I mean, I went to the best I could find in Hollywood and my contacts that helped me do things with artwork and such. So that was very, very helpful and at least got it to a point where… I mean, I could go into the details, but when we finally had our sleeping, we had a package. The manufacturer did a fantastic job. The quality is off the charts. And I got this great thing that there’s nothing even close to it out there. And now what do I do? What do I do? How do I tell-?
Stacy Jones (22:01):
You market it. How do you get it sold?
Mark Viniello (22:03):
Absolutely. And coming from a background where you just make monsters for a living, you see things like the Chewbacca mask that went viral. Remember the woman with-?
Stacy Jones (22:13):
I do. And that woman made it, oh my goodness, sell out.
Mark Viniello (22:17):
And it wasn’t even… I thought, “Oh, great. We’ll just make a video, put it on Facebook, we’ll be millionaires in a week.”
Stacy Jones (22:22):
Mark Viniello (22:22):
That’s not how it works. Yeah. And I was mistaken in the fact that everyone’s heard the Rocky story, the Sylvester Stallone story where he was down and out. He held out to sell his script and he got it and it became something. But what you don’t hear is the tens of thousands of stories of people in a similar situation that mortgaged their house to make their film or whatever and they lose their house. Those are far more common than the Rocky story. So again, how many products are out there that are great products that just fail? And I started listening to marketing tapes, Neil Patel, and just trying to learn because I know nothing about it. I don’t. It’s just not what I do. I make stuff. And then you try to do your due diligence and you just make mistakes along the way. And I’ve made plenty of mistakes. And I’ve learned from them. There’s some expensive mistakes and I’d be happy to share one with the listeners if they’re interested.
Stacy Jones (23:22):
I’m sure. I’m interested. I love other people making mistakes besides me because I was an entrepreneur. I’m great and making mistakes and then learning from them.
Mark Viniello (23:32):
Yeah. So again, my head space at the time was, okay, if I can get this to go viral somehow, it’ll be. And that was a mistake, going for the quick kill. It really is about the slow and steady, first of all, is what I’ve learned. And you have to do as much as you can, especially if your resources are limited. And by the time all the manufacturing costs, the design costs were in, my resources were very limited. So coming to our first Christmas, I thought, “Well, we’ve got to get the word out. How can we do that.” And we interviewed three marketing companies and we went with this middle company that was like a relatively economical one, the middle of the road than an expensive one. So let’s go with the middle one. That’ll be the safest. And they showed a marketing plan. And I looked at it, I’m like, “All right, this sounds good to me. What do we do?” And they asked, “Well, what’s your marketing budget?” And I said, “Well, you tell me what my marketing budget is, and I’ll raise it.” They’re like, “Mark, if you have $10, you’re going to spend $10. If you have $100,000, you’re going to spend $100,000. It’s what you have will tell us what we can do.”
Mark Viniello (24:32):
And I said, “Well, I could probably scrape together $50,000 if I had to,” and I did this all bootstrapping, by the way. My job in Hollywood allows me to get extra jobs. So it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got to get this artwork done. It’s another five grand.” It’s like, “All right, well, let me take another job on the weekend to do that. And that’s how that would pay for that.” I probably should have looked for investors in hindsight. Again, one of the things I learned, there are people to go to that can help you with this. So when the marketing came, I said, “I could probably get you $50,000. What does that get me?” And they drew it out. I said, “It looks great.” I wrote the check and my hand is shaking and I sent it off. And I had a panic attack. And I called the company and I said, “I got to tell you a story because I don’t know anything about marketing at all. I just sent you probably the biggest check I’ve ever written in my life.”
Mark Viniello (25:24):
And a couple of years ago, a producer came to me and said, “I want you to make a wearable for my film.” And I said, “Great. What do you want?” He said, “I want a nine foot tall werewolf, animatronics flattering. It’s the big climax.” That’s why I said great. I said, “What was your budget for the werewolf?” He was like, “$10,000.” And I said, “You just bought the hair. That’s it. Just bought a roll of hair. Nothing else. A roll of hair to do a werewolf nine feet tall is 10 grand from NFT.” And I told that story to the marketing lady and I said, “So with that $50,000 I just sent you, did I just buy the hair? What do we got?” She said, “No. But we do have to be very careful how we target. We can’t lay and spray. We’ve got to be very…” She goes, “Mark, I have clients that spend $50,000 a week.” I said, “Well, this is it for me for the Christmas. So let’s make these count please,” and it barely moved the needle.
Mark Viniello (26:17):
Now, if I could have done that spend a quarter, we might have gotten a little more notoriety than what we did just for the Christmas area. So it was, again, in my naiveté and wanting to make a splash. I’m like, “Here we are this first Christmas.” I should have pulled back and said, “Okay, what can I do personally to at least start getting a buzz through social media?” And it’s a lot of work. I mean, it can be done, but it’s a lot of work. Before I get to a point where I just spend this money and didn’t have any ROI at all. So that sucked. But again, you learn from it and you’re like, “Okay, I know more about marketing than I did three years ago.” And I’m trying to learn from those experiences and not repeat them.
Stacy Jones (27:04):
Yeah. And marketing is tough because there’s nothing that’s out there that’s just going to make you go viral overnight except the luck of going viral overnight. And everything, it’s plotting and it’s being strategic and plotting and spending, plotting and spending more. And that makes it really difficult. And there’s so many entrepreneurs who are like, “I just need the magic bean. I will hit it. We can go. And I’m right in my way.”
Mark Viniello (27:30):
Yeah. And the stories you read, I would say be very… A lot of stories, while they’re great, they’re inspiring, they get you hyped up. I would say a lot of those inspirational stories from other entrepreneurs, there’s something missing. There’s an element in that story that was really put in there. And so these overnights… I mean, there’s the old saying, “It took me 10 years to be an overnight success.” That to me is a very accurate assessment of this journey, what I’ve discovered. But I know that we’re onto something because we haven’t had a bad review. I can tell you that there is no other product like it’s kind that is better quality or more luxurious or more magical and more imaginative. However, what I learned in the marketing tapes that I have listened to, someone brought up McDonald’s. They said, “McDonald’s, does it have the most nutritious hamburgers in the world? No. The best tasting hamburgers in the world? No. What?”
Stacy Jones (28:26):
Mark Viniello (28:28):
Stacy Jones (28:30):
You know what you’re getting.
Mark Viniello (28:30):
You know what you’re getting. You know when you give that value proposition, when you give this money, you know what you’re getting back and it is consistent. And it kind of freaked me out because a lot of companies that have the best product will go out of business because they cannot. And now I was like, “Oh, that sucks. How do you not do that?” Because again, as a parent, anything I do, and my wife’s the same way, we want to do something, we could have done something cheap and falls apart after and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to have this whole empire set up of this whole plan about starting when they’re kids and the story is going to young adult stories which we started writing. So they will grow with us. Again, there’s so many details put into our product. And that’s another challenge, is how do you convey all the things that your product can do in a sentence or less? That’s tricky.
Mark Viniello (29:18):
And I also discovered too is people would look at our sleeping bag and say, “Oh, I’ve seen those in Costco.” I’m like, “Those weren’t ours.” They would see the Blankie tails or the Snuggie tails, which are the fleece little tails that are sold for 29.99. I’m like, “That’s not what we are. We’re more than just a blanket.”
Stacy Jones (29:32):
We’re more magical.
Mark Viniello (29:34):
We are. But again, how do you differentiate when someone looking at all these ads in their Facebook so fast and they just see a cloth mermaid tail? They’re just like, “Cool,” and then they’re on the next thing. So it is about trying to make your brand stand out and I’m still working on that. That’s still evolving. That is still something that we’re pursuing.
Stacy Jones (29:54):
Right. Instead of just showing a happy child, showing someone whose face lights up at the pure delight of the magic that they actually can have this creation. Yeah.
Mark Viniello (30:06):
Oh, absolutely. And we do it. A parent sends us pictures and tell us how much the kids love it. And we’ve got YouTube videos. But again, with all these other social media resources like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, there’s so many resources right now for entrepreneurs and people to get their message out there. But all of those require a certain skill set and experience. I don’t know anything about YouTube. And there’s meta tags and ways you can… And I’m like, “What?” Again, I can make stuff but this is a whole class I got to learn on how to make a video and get people to see it on YouTube. Again, it’s been a big… And then the social media-
Stacy Jones (30:43):
You have to have budget also or no one sees your posts that you make.
Mark Viniello (30:46):
Correct. The algorithms keep it quiet, and then you have your influencer. So let’s go to influencers and they’re-
Stacy Jones (30:51):
Mark Viniello (30:53):
They are and a lot of influencers… Well, “influencers” will just want product for their kids. We sent out so many products to different influencers and mom bloggers and nothing. The kids got sleeping bags and we got posts, but it didn’t turn into conversions.
Stacy Jones (31:11):
Okay. That makes sense. So now you have… We were talking a little bit before the show, and have pulled away during COVID from working with mass retailers and focusing on your own channel so you have more control of the brand. What made you decide to go in that direction?
Mark Viniello (31:33):
How we got this started is our manufacturer was a great bedding company called Mytex Home Fashions and they did a phenomenal job of taking our designs and our prototypes and making them into amazing… The quality is off the charts. And that’s me saying something because I have high standards and they exceeded my standards. So I was very, very happy.
Stacy Jones (31:53):
You should show to those who are viewing this exactly what it looks like. Yes.
Mark Viniello (31:57):
So I’ve got a bag here. So this is our Polynesian mermaid. And it’s a five piece set and there’s a pillow and there’s a book. They glow in the dark. You get stickers and-
Stacy Jones (32:12):
And it comes in a very nicely packaged… You think that you’re buying a brand high end comforter or something along those lines.
Mark Viniello (32:19):
Absolutely. They were even able to do… I don’t know if you can see that, but they put a little logo.
Stacy Jones (32:24):
A logo tag.
Mark Viniello (32:25):
Yep, they can be made into a necklace or a charm or something. As I said, each sleeping bag comes with a book, a storybook. And this was this mermaid. So her tail is orange and green. And that’s the colors of this bag, is orange and green. We have our ice mermaid who’s her tail is more blue. And she’s got a gentoo penguin, which is an endangered penguin. And again, we’re looking to partner with conservation groups. So things like each book, we will send to the Gentoo Penguin Fund. There’s a tiger tail horseshoe or a horseshoe, horse fish. What are they called?
Stacy Jones (32:58):
Mark Viniello (32:59):
Horseshoe fish. Is that what they’re called?
Stacy Jones (33:01):
A horseshoe crab?
Mark Viniello (33:02):
Stacy Jones (33:03):
Mark Viniello (33:04):
Stacy Jones (33:05):
Mark Viniello (33:06):
Yeah. So again, another endangered. So again, putting the real world stuff in there was important to us. And, again, you have this thing, and then you see things like the Snuggie tails were where that product, I would argue that not a lot of money was spent on developing the product, but they put a lot more money in their marketing. And as a result, you have a 29.99 product that is outselling us top to bottom even though it’s probably $3 or $4 to manufacture. They’re very, very economical to manufacture something like that. So I’ve got artists. I’ve got writers. I’ve got agreements with everybody for royalties and things. So I did the whole thing. And it’s just a matter again of trying to explain that this is more than just a sleeping bag. It’s an experience.
Stacy Jones (33:50):
No, it’s a whole story. You have actually created a marketing machine around your product through your stories.
Mark Viniello (33:57):
We tried it and we have maps. There’s a map that… So we made this map. On each, there’s nine realms, nine undersea realms. These are the first three. So each realm, we took different mythology. So every culture on the planet has a myth about mermaids. We didn’t know this. My wife did all this research. And so what we wanted to do was incorporate those myths, elements of them into our story. So if a kid from Norway is reading about our North Sea Mermaid, there will be familiar elements there to the myths that they’ve grown up with and the legends. We tweaked them a little bit to fit more of a through-line narrative. In some, they’re good guys or bad guys, depending on the culture, what mermaids are. So we made them all heroines. We made all of our characters, the young adult stories, they’re growing up online, they don’t know that they’re mermaids, and that they have a destiny to come together and then fight the bad guy.
Mark Viniello (34:50):
So essentially, taking a page from Marvel’s playbook, taking all these individual films and correlating it with the Avengers, which is kind of where I wanted to go with this. And making the characters float, making the characters, again, matching my own daughters. I’ve got four daughters. And it’s amazing to me that same parents, same environment, they couldn’t be more different, any one of them. When you bring your kids home and you’re like, “Oh, this baby, I’m going to mold it into the perfect human.” No, this other person from the hospital comes home to live with you and they deal with that personality. So again, with my daughters, I was able to make the characters, the mermaids, after some of them with their personalities and their likes and their interests. And I wanted to be inclusive. I wanted kids to… As I’ve often said, I don’t care who you are if you’re a child, and at some point, you felt like you didn’t belong or you questioned who you were. A popular bar, if you’re not popular, everybody has that. And I wanted to be part of this and say, “It’s okay, you can be different. It is okay.” And I wanted to celebrate the kids and the diversity and who they are.
Stacy Jones (35:55):
And how many different tales are there? Story as well as the natural mermaid tales.
Mark Viniello (35:59):
So actual ones that are made, we have three made right now. We have six others that are in development that we’re working on. And it’s just a matter of creating the buzz and getting the stuff going. It’s ready to go. I just again have to hit that revenue stream to go, “Okay, now we’re going to pull the trigger on this mermaid.” And then we got to plan about how to roll them all out.
Stacy Jones (36:23):
That’s awesome. That’s really, really cool. I’m wishing you success.
Mark Viniello (36:26):
Stacy Jones (36:27):
Because just looking online at your product, you do have something that is special. And again, I’m so about storytelling. You have that, which is phenomenal.
Mark Viniello (36:37):
Thank you. Thank you. We’re trying. But it’s, again, just getting the word out there because there’s so much stuff now, again, as I said earlier with things like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. There are a lot more resources for people to get the word out. But there’s also a lot more stuff that’s getting out there. How do you make yourself stand out in this freeway where all these billboards, all these other products, how do you make yours stand out and still remain true to the brand and not sell out and not compromise something first? Which I’m very big on as well.
Stacy Jones (37:09):
And you’re looking at leveraging Hollywood to help you stand out by creating a potential series. I mean, some people will put their products in shows through product placement, but you’re actually utilizing a series to be your product to get some of that messaging and that sale.
Mark Viniello (37:28):
Absolutely, because it is about the storytelling. I mean, again, the stories, I mean, I love telling stories, I love doing stories for my kids even though I make monsters. I’m a filmmaker. And monsters are a tool for the filmmaker to tell their story. And everyone sees the bag. The bag is obviously the flagship thing that gets the most attention. Nobody’s going to buy a mermaid story told by Mark Viniello but I thought, “Well, if I can make a good story and have this other factor involved, which is the sleeping bag, the cool golden sleeping bag, maybe that would be something that would launch.” And it is getting attention, and again, through contacts in Hollywood, and I’m able to take meetings at places like Apple Plus, Netflix, things like that. So that’s been… Again, I feel kind of guilty that I have resources that I want to say normal entrepreneurs do not. But it’s still hard even with those resources. It’s not easy as we’re not on series yet and we’re still pitching. So it’s tricky. It’s very, very tricky. It’s almost a catch-22 sometimes, what I’m discovering
Stacy Jones (38:31):
Well, I don’t think that you should feel any sorrow or shame that you have some resources. I mean, you’ve been sculpting yourself as an entrepreneur since childhood.
Mark Viniello (38:40):
Yeah. And I didn’t realize that until getting out here. You’re right. That’s a good point because again, even just doing the monster stuff, it’s a very atypical job and you live like a gypsy. You go from film to film and you get some lean times, but I love that job and I love what I do. And I love doing this with my kids. The most fun I had was developing this with my kids and coming up with ideas and story points and then getting the artwork together and putting all that stuff together and then seeing it, it’s just like, “Wow, I know some really amazing people. And I’m so blessed and fortunate that not only I know them, they’re willing to help me with this stuff.” So it’s a journey.
Stacy Jones (39:18):
Well, on the point of getting the message out, how can our listeners find out more about you, your product, everything under the sun about Mark?
Mark Viniello (39:29):
Well, apparently, again, learning about marketing and self-promotion, I’m terrible at self-promotion. And my wife gets on my case about that all the time. She’s like, “Look at your resume. You need to promote yourself more.” I’m like, “Whatever.” I mean, if you Google my name or you Google Enchantails, a lot of things will pop up there from plenty of articles, interviews like this, and our website, enchantails.com, www.enchantails.com, there’s a little about us section there and they can order from Enchantails or they can go to Amazon or Etsy or we have some other platforms. But our website, I think, is the best deal at the moment because there’s no cost associated. Again, learning about Amazon. Amazon’s tricky to deal with. I love it as a customer. As a vendor, not so much. It’s not ideal for a brand like mine, not at the stage I’m at right now. But it does legitimize you. Someone goes to Amazon and that your product comes up, it’s almost like, “Oh, okay, so they’re real,” even though we are because I do that of, “Oh, this product, is it on Amazon? There it is.”
Stacy Jones (40:37):
Right. Versus Etsy which seems much smaller as a brand, or a Wix platform or the like. So it does make that bigger feel.
Mark Viniello (40:46):
It does. And again, not knowing anything like, “Okay I’m going to make this thing. What do I do? What’s the first thing I can do?” And for me, it’s about momentum and little wins. And what I tell everybody, if you have an idea for a product, come up with a name for your product or your company and then buy the domain name.
Stacy Jones (41:03):
Mark Viniello (41:03):
Stacy Jones (41:03):
You don’t finalize your name until you get the domain name.
Mark Viniello (41:07):
Get the domain name.
Stacy Jones (41:08):
I tell people because people do it all the time. And I’m like, “No, you can’t get the domain. You have to do it at the same time.”
Mark Viniello (41:17):
I did it before. I even registered it, or trademarked it, or anything. Again, because what it does, it’s like, okay, you feel a little empowered like, “I own enchantails.com. That’s mine.” And then I went nuts and I bought mermaid names, real names. I didn’t need to do all that, but you don’t know what you don’t know. And then looking to apply for a patent, a design patent. So I went down that road. I wanted to make sure I was protected. A lot of time, what I see with other entrepreneurs, myself included is that you almost get paralyzed by fear. You hear the horror stories. You watch a movie like Joy where it shows the scene where she’s in the [inaudible 00:41:51] getting ripped off. I would have burned that factory to the ground. I would have lost my mind if they did that. I would have been so angry. But that fuels the arts like, “Oh my gosh.” And you got to kind of get out of your own head and just be like, “Look, you got to do it. You got to move forward. You cannot be paralyzed. You’re going to get ripped off. You know what? And if you’re successful, you’re going to get ripped off. It’s going to happen.”
Stacy Jones (42:13):
The sign of success.
Mark Viniello (42:16):
All right. So again, a thing that I do is I… But I did this in my makeup effects career, is standing on the shoulders of giants. Looking at someone who has done what you want to do but is already been there. So looked at all other makeup artists. I know the history of makeup. I mean, that I love, but I thought, “Where do I go to this?” And there were three entrepreneurs, three women entrepreneurs above all others that were my inspiration to do this. And the first one was Pleasant Rowland who did American Girl. And I thought $110 for a doll and a book. I said, “That’s insane.” We have six of them. We go to the American-
Stacy Jones (42:56):
My generation was Cabbage Patch Kids.
Mark Viniello (42:59):
Cabbage Patch Kids were bananas. You couldn’t get them.
Stacy Jones (43:01):
Same thing. That was the predecessor.
Mark Viniello (43:05):
But she had a story that talked about the history. I’m like, “That’s really cool. You’re getting something.” My wife looked at getting the knockoffs but she’s like, “They’re not the real ones. They’re really nice quality.” So I said, “Okay, put Pleasant Rowland here as one of my inspirations.” Another one was Jennifer Telfer who did Pillow Pets and reading her story about Pillow Pets, how her son would sleep on his stuffed animal and got flattened. So she made a stuffed animal for her new Pillow Pet and I read about her journey. And I was like, “Okay, interesting.” And then the last one was Sara Blakely who did Spanx. And again reading about Spanx, knowing nothing, I’m like, “How did she even get…?” I mean, because she basically took pantyhose and cut the feet off basically. And she’s a billionaire now. She’s self-made. And she did it. I was like, “That’s incredible. How do you do that?” So I follow her. I follow her husband, Jesse Itzler, and I try to learn from them. But it’s tough. It’s a grind and you have to be consistent with it.
Mark Viniello (44:00):
And the hardest thing for me is serving two masters. And I’ve got my day job, which requires a lot of effort, energy, and attention. And then this baby, Enchantails, that also requires a lot of energy. [inaudible 00:44:12] a day and I still want to see my family because my kids are getting big. So it’s tricky, but you find a way to make it work.
Stacy Jones (44:20):
Mark, I could probably talk to you for another hour. You are a perfect guest. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Mark Viniello (44:26):
Thank you for having me, Stacy. It was a pleasure.
Stacy Jones (44:28):
Of course. And to all of our listeners, thank you for tuning in to Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) today. I look forward to chatting with you this next week.
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