Advertising / Media / Social media

How a former Philly waiter is cashing in on his Vine stardom

Peter Heacock now runs a creative agency that makes Vines for major brands.

Pete Heacock is the CEO of Unpopular Now. (Courtesy photo)
Back in the summer of 2013, a bunch of Vine stars launched a joint account. It was called Unpopular Now, playing off Vine’s “Popular Now” page, and it hoped to cut through all the noise on the social video platform.

Big names like Ryan McHenry (225,000 followers) (aka the guy behind the Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal meme), Jerome Jarre (8 million followers) and Marlo Meekins (685,000 followers) were part of the crew. Mashable wondered if it was the “one Vine account to rule them all.”
Unpopular Now was Peter Heacock’s idea. Heacock (74,000 followers) is a Fishtown videographer who, with his zany surrealist videos and homemade special effects, found his way into the world of Hollywood’s Vine elite. A world of actors and comedians who had perfected the art of the six-second video and had the followings to prove it.
It was all just for kicks until, suddenly, it became a moneymaker.

Today, Heacock, 36, is at the helm of a creative agency that’s producing Vines for brands like Target, American Express and Procter & Gamble.
The agency, which holds on to the Unpopular Now name, taps Vine stars — and their enormous audiences — to create video ads that will go viral. It writes and produces Vines, too. Last year, the firm worked with about 60 independent contractors to produce videos — each costing brands and agencies anywhere between $5,000 to $40,000, depending on the influencer and the difficulty of the video.

How Heacock turned a hobby into a career

It all started with an exclusive Facebook group.
In his early Vine days, Heacock was as much of a Vine fan as he was a Vine creator. He followed a lot of Viners, those who created similarly high-quality, wacky videos — many of whom landed on Vine’s “Popular Now” list.
Soon, he started becoming friends with them. They all found each other on Twitter, which eventually led to the creation of an invite-only Facebook group (called, inexplicably, “Super Mario Bros. Climbing Plant”). Only Vine celebs allowed.
“It was an honor to be invited,” Heacock said.

The Facebook group, as Heacock explained it, created this space to connect with Viners whose work you admired. It gave you access to people like Andy Milonakis (821,000 followers) and Bo Burnham (2 million followers), people who were celebrities in their own right.
“It’s hard to connect with someone online,” he said. The Facebook group was this “cool way of breaking down barriers on social media.”
Even hearing Heacock talk about it today, he sounds a little starstruck.
The Facebook group was what eventually turned into Unpopular Now, the Vine account. (Unpopular Now’s launch wasn’t without drama. There was “huge backlash” in the Vine community, Heacock said, because people thought they were being elitist. Heacock holds that the account was meant to help the community.)

Then one day, the Unpopular Now crew got an email. It was from Twitter.

Going big-time

The company, which bought Vine in 2012, wanted to know who exactly was behind this so-called “Vine account to rule them all.” They scheduled weekly chats with the crew, just to talk shop about Vine.
A few months later, Twitter had a proposition: Anheuser-Busch wanted a Vine ad for its Bud Light Lime-a-Rita. Did Unpopular Now want to make it? Heacock, a freelance videographer and a server at Oyster House at the time, was in.
By then, he had only made a few branded Vines for local agency Red Tettemer. The next few days were a flurry of getting all his ducks in a row to be able to get the contract.
“They were like, ‘OK, are you an LLC?’ And I was like, ‘I’ll be one in three days,'” he said. “‘Do you have insurance?’ ‘I’ll get some.'”
That was last February. Since then, Heacock has been going full steam ahead, getting clients through Twitter and word of mouth. “Vine is an amazing echo chamber, and most of the time we don’t know how people come to us,” he wrote in an email.
He waited his last table last June.

Did the others in the Unpopular Now crew feel like Heacock had co-opted the group name to start his own company?
Heacock said that’s not how it happened: He asked — and received — their permission. Plus, many of those Viners work with Unpopular Now in its agency form. (One Unpopular Now member, Jerome Jarre, cofounded a Vine creative agency called GrapeStory with Gary Vaynerchuk in the summer of 2013. Another competitor includes the venture-backed
For now, Unpopular Now is team of two: Heacock and Gretchen Lohse, whom Heacock met through Vine star (and Unpopular Now talent) Simply Sylvio. (Sylvio, who wears a gorilla costume in all his Vines, even won a Tribeca Film Award.)
Heacock runs the company out of his Fishtown house and often flies to Los Angeles to film Vines for the agency. That’s where most Vine stars are located, he says, though he’s working on convincing some people to move to Philly to join him at Unpopular Now.

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