Over the serene music and view from Top of the World, a man in a plastic mask and purple tie delivers a passionate monologue about K-State’s 51-9 win against Missouri State. The man is well-known these days as the K-State Mask. At least part of that fame is explainable by the black screen frame that appears near the end of each of his recent three and a half minute videos. The screen says, “Production by 502 Media Group.”
The local firm, which keeps a modest yet modern office on South Fourth Street, worked with The Mask to craft that Missouri State video, and subsequent videos, about the Wildcats football team. Blade Mages, a fan who is also creative director and founder of 502, reached out after someone showed him the Mask’s original video, shot in front of a white wall, and he was immediately impressed.
Fueled by K-State’s 24-19 victory last week over Oklahoma and the Wildcats’ surge in polls, the result of Mages’ outreach has been internet celebrity for The Mask, and a business boom for 502 Media Group.
“I don’t think either of us set out to create what it ended up becoming,” Mages said.
In the week since that upset win over OU, The Mask’s YouTube hits are approaching 100,000, his “likes” outnumber his “dislikes” 10-1, 502 has received more calls than it can handle from prospective clients, and the firm’s inbox is overflowing.
Mages believes The Mask videos have become “inadvertently the firm’s most successful marketing campaign.” With only a handful of employees to handle the calls, 502 is having to be very selective about business opportunities in order to deal with the sheer volume. Mages said Rachel Hermes, project manager, keeps the firm on top of things.
“She tells us what we can and can’t handle at this point,” Mages said
The firm’s story started far before The Mask. Mages created the firm while he was still a graphic design student at K-State. In 2008, he was approached by a company in Virginia that contracts with rural cable companies to assist on video production.
The owner of a local cable company in Concordia, where Mages worked as a high school student, had passed on his name to the company.
He took out a $5,000 small business loan and started shooting small, low-budget TV ads around northern Kansas. An unsuccessful bid for a Downtown Manhattan Inc. video led to more local clients and a broader focus.
“What we ended up finding out is a lot of those folks needed help with web, they needed help with print, with radio all these different things,” Mages said.
Then came The Mask.
The first video was shot on Labor Day, and Mages says The Mask’s talent as an actor and improviser was evident from the start.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to turn the camera on and you just talk,’” Mages said. “He went on a 20 minute rant, and it was all pure gold.”
He started editing the video that day but found the task difficult because the Mask had so many great lines. Picking and choosing what parts to use became a battle. Hermes had started working at 502 just before the video was shot and found a surprise upon walking into the office the next morning.
“I think it was her second day, she shows up, and I was passed out on the couch because I was up here editing the first video until 4 in the morning,” Mages said.
If ever Hermes is unable to contact Mages, she said she knows to check the office couch.
After completing the editing process, Mages and Hermes watched happily as the YouTube views increased. Social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook also helped spread the word.
“There wasn’t really a tipping point where on the first video we knew ‘holy cow this is something huge,’” Mages said. “We just played this waiting game, keep hitting refresh to see if the views changed.”
As the popularity of the Mask videos have grown, so has 502’s profile. Mages is getting calls from businesses all over the state. He said about 30 percent of the calls are from businesses who just want to cash in on the Mask’s name, but most are from businesses that looked into 502’s other work and liked what they saw.
“Seventy percent of the time the Mask has just introduced us to people,” Mages said.
Mages said the firm is considering adding positions, but, for the most part, he likes the size of the firm as it is. He said it allows more freedom and flexibility.
There is even interest from national companies. Mages was mum on the details but said the firm is in the process of talking with CBS about some video work. If that weren’t impressive enough, he also has the privilege of knowing The Mask’s secret identity.
“It’s funny because obviously I know his name,” Mages said, “but he’s in my phone as ‘The Mask.’ I can’t call him his normal name-it just doesn’t work.”