Creating And Marketing A Brand With Mark Viniello


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How a Man Started a Children's Mermaid Sleeping Bag Company from Scratch

The world of marketing is full of tips and tricks, and do's and don'ts. It's hard for a new business owner to navigate the vast world of brand success. 

Recently, our CEO sat down with Mark Viniello to discuss his experience with his brand from an entrepreneurial perspective. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to create and successfully market a brand from an idea on screen.

Mark Viniello

A Little More About Guest

Mark Viniello 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.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: Can we start off by sharing with our listeners today a little bit more about to your brand and how you got to where you are today both as a special makeup artist, effects artist, and as well as an entrepreneur?

Answer: 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. 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 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. His appearance changed drastically from film to film. That really just struck a nerve with me. I thought, "Wow, that's really cool. This guy can become someone else." 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.

My parents thought, "This is odd, but he's staying out of trouble, so we'll let him go with it." 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. 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. 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. I was very persistent and I didn't give up. I would evaluate what's working and not working. 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.

Mark Viniello - creating and marketing a brand

Question: Through travels and this and that, you ended up one day working on in a film that happened to have had an enchanted mermaid. How has this changed your life? 

Answer: Massively. I'm the father of daughters. What I would do with my kids is I would play games with them. Of course, I can't play normal games. I make costumes and masks and we do this whole role playing game and they're the heroines and I'm the monster. They have got to fight the monster. We would do that. 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. 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. My daughter, Ava, who was five at the time was a rabid little mermaid fan, would watch it and would act it out. When she's crying, she would pretend to cry, and I was like, "Okay." She likes mermaids. I have a mermaid tail.

"Ava, come in here." 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 it. I'm like, "Ava, we got to drop this off." 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?" I was like, "Fine, I'll make you a mermaid tail."

At the time, there were no products out there like this.  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. I said, "What can I do?" I got some sheet foam. I just spray-glued a little tail together. And she fit in, would crawl around the house. 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. Then her sisters wanted tails, but they had to be different than their sister's. 

Then they started asking me, "Where do I live in the ocean?" I said, "The Mariana Trench," which is the only location in the ocean I knew. I explained a little bit that 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. Then they started to ask me more. I started telling more stories and it kind of grew from there. I thought, "Kids might kind of dig this especially with parents that aren't an effects artist who can't make tails."

Then I wanted to teach kids as well because I figured the best way that kids learn is when they're entertained. They don't realize they're learning. They'll remember details that are amazing. 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. The stories are inspiring. 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.

Question: How do you get it sold?

Answer: Coming from a background where you just make monsters for a living, you see things like the Chewbacca mask that went viral. I thought, "Oh, great. We'll just make a video, put it on Facebook, we'll be millionaires in a week."

That's not how it works. 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. 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. How many products are out there that are great products that just fail? 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. I've made plenty of mistakes. I've learned from them. There are some expensive mistakes.

My head space at the time was, okay, if I can get this to go viral somehow, it'll be. That was a mistake, going for the quick kill. It really is about the slow and steady, first of all. You have to do as much as you can, especially if your resources are limited. By the time all the manufacturing costs, the design costs were in, my resources were very limited. Coming to our first Christmas, I thought, "Well, we've got to get the word out. How can we do that.?" We interviewed three marketing companies and we went with this middle company that was a relatively economical one - the middle of the road than an expensive one. They showed a marketing plan. I looked at it, I'm like, "All right, this sounds good to me. What do we do?" They asked, "Well, what's your marketing budget?" 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.

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. 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. One of the things I learned, there are people to go to that can help you with this. When the marketing came, I said, "I could probably get you $50,000. What does that get me?" They drew it out. I said, "It looks great." I wrote the check and my hand is shaking and I sent it off. 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."

A couple of years ago, a producer came to me and said, "I want you to make a wearable for my film." 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." 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." 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.

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. 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?" It's a lot of work. 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. You learn from it and you're like, "Okay, I know more about marketing than I did three years ago." I'm trying to learn from those experiences and not repeat them.

Mark Viniello - creating and marketing a brand

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 - 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. 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?" 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. 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?" 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. They will grow with us. There's so many details put into our product. 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.

I also discovered 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."

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. 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.

A parent sends us pictures and tell us how much the kids love it. We've got YouTube videos. 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. All of those require a certain skill set and experience. I don't know anything about YouTube. I can make stuff but this is a whole class I've got to learn on how to make a video and get people to see it on YouTube. Then, the social media - the algorithms keep it quiet, and you have your influencer. Influencers and they're very expensive.

They are and a lot of influencers who 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.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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, so I was very, very happy.

Each sleeping bag comes with a storybook, and this was this mermaid.  Her tail is orange and green. That's the colors of this bag, is orange and green. We have our ice mermaid who's her tail is more blue. She's got a gentoo penguin, which is an endangered penguin. We're looking to partner with conservation groups.  

Putting the real world stuff in there was important to us. You have this and then you see things like the Snuggie tails. Not a lot of money was spent on developing the product, but they put a lot more money in their marketing. 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. I've got artists. I've got writers. I've got agreements with everybody for royalties and things. I did the whole thing. It's just a matter again of trying to explain that this is more than just a sleeping bag. It's an experience.

Mark Viniello - creating and marketing a brand

We have maps. On each, there's nine realms, nine undersea realms. Each realm we took different mythology. Every culture on the planet has a myth about mermaids. We didn't know this. My wife did all this research. What we wanted to do was incorporate those myths, elements of them, into our story. 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. 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. 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.

Essentially, we're 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. We're making the characters float, making the characters matching my own daughters. I've got four daughters. It's amazing to me that same parents, same environment, they couldn't be more different, any one of them. 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. I wanted to be inclusive. 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. 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, the diversity and who they are.

Question: How can our listeners find out more about you, your product, and everything about you?

Answer: 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,, There's a little about us section there and they can order from Enchantails or they can go to Amazon, Etsy, or we have some other platforms. Our website is the best deal at the moment because there's no cost associated.

Check Out The Podcast!

Mark has A TON of great information from his experience in creating and marketing a new brand! Check out the rest of the interview on our podcast below to learn more from his advice and expertise!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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