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"Commercial Kings' makes art of small-business ads

"Commercial Kings' makes art of small-business ads

June 25th, 2011 by LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer in News

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Big companies boast big marketing budgets and slick ad agencies, but mom and pop stores have something money can't buy: Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.

They're the clever comedy duo behind "I Love Local Commercials," a web series that displays the freewheeling spots they've done gratis for small, generally offbeat businesses that caught their eye.

In their new IFC series, "Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings," they reveal the creative process behind ads for, among others, a spa offering colonics, an eco-friendly burial products firm called Bury Me Naturally and Super Shmuttle, a shuttle and day care service for dogs.

Felines aren't ignored. There's a segment on the Holiday Hotel for Cats in the debut episode (aired 10 p.m. EDT Friday).

The owner, explaining her business to McLaughlin and Neal so they can properly showcase it, offers: "It's a resort hotel" for kitties.

"What's the equivalent of parasailing?" replies a droll McLaughlin.

That's about as snarky as the good-natured pair get. They come across as slightly madcap media nerds with a love of irony, but also boosters for small businesses and obsessed with the challenge of making an honest, entertaining ad.

Neal and McLaughlin are YouTube sensations with a popular channel that includes some 200 videos, including "Facebook Song," about the pleasures of a Facebook-based life (8 million-plus views), and "Fast Food Folk Song (nearly 5 million views). Major companies have signed up as sponsors.

Friends since their childhood in Buies Creek, N.C., and now 33-year-olds living in Los Angeles with their families, both are engineers by training and, briefly, profession. Their previous foray into TV was the short-lived CW show "Online Nation" in 2007, which stoked their desire to make entertainment their life's work.

It started, in part, because of a shared love of quirky ads.

"We've always been a fan of local commercials," Neal said. "You'll see a car salesman decide he needs to dress up as a chicken to sell his used cars. It's fascinating, it's unforgettable, and you may find, "I wasn't in the market for a car but I was in the market to watch a grown man in a chicken suit."'

In an age of viral marketing and DVRs that make TV commercial-skipping a breeze, the pair remain true believers in the art of the amusing ad.

"Potentially even a refined form of art," Neal said. "A great local commercial is like a snapping turtle. Once it grabs you it doesn't let go."

"No, it does let go," McLaughlin parries. "I think an alligator is better. It takes and rolls you under, then lets your carcass rot."

The pair do their own market research and then cast, direct, shoot and edit each commercial with input from the business owner. They revel in pushing their clients - and viewers - out of their comfort zone.

They persuaded the owners of a yoga studio, one of whom had served in the Vietnam War, to present themselves as "solidiers of yoga" and use fake weapons and explosions in their ad.

For the African-American owner of a hair salon who wants to attract non-black customers, McLaughlin and Neal hit the race issue straight on. Their ad includes a candid entreaty from the owner and features the salon's stylists demonstrating their skills on white, Asian and Latino women.

"If that's what the client wants, that's what we're going to give him. We can harness a little controversy but have fun with it," Neal said. "We're not a rigged-up reality show. We are sincerely trying to help a business and have fun in the process."

It worked for the Holiday Hotel for Cats, he said: The owner got two new customers shortly after the ad was released online.

"Commerical Kings" remains true to Neal and McLaughlin's online roots: The pair plan to tweet live with viewers during each episode's Friday night debut and will stream live at when the episode repeats at 10:30 p.m. ET.