Kansas City's Media Corp goes looking for the next Snuggie, and discovers vintage American weirdness along the way 

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Media Corp hasn't launched a product as far-reaching as the Snuggie (or even the Slanket), but there's a good chance you've seen one of its marketing successes.

The company's business model is like that of an indie-rock label. It searches for small acts with big potential, like a magic spray that makes your ball go farther. If the product performs, Media Corp brings it to a larger company that has the resources for a national campaign. There are a dozen or so outfits like Media Corp scouring America for salable products, and they all want to work with one of two national promoters: TeleBrands and Allstar Marketing, the company that made the Snuggie into a meme.

So far, Media Corp has seen two big successes: the Salad Blaster, a plastic container that keeps the lettuce separate from the dressing until lunchtime, and the Windshield Wonder, which is used to wipe down the inside of a car's windshield. (The Windshield Wonder got an added push from TeleBrands.) There are more success stories on the way.

"Everyone has an invention," Pardo says. Or "everyone thinks they have an idea for one." The key is sifting through the crap until finding the crap that will sell.

For the last several years, Pardo has been the company's lead sifter. A career salesman, he spent most of his 20s pitching medicine as Bayer Pharmaceuticals' employee 428607 — a number he can recite from memory to this day. But when Pardo was 27, with salesman burnout in full effect, a friend invited him to help start a production company to sell products on television.

"I didn't know much about the business at all," Pardo says. "But I liked the idea that there were only 14 or 15 people ... . I wanted something smaller I could make an impact in."

Around the same time, Kansas entrepreneurs Ed Waldberg and Mark Manheim were starting a similar company called Media Corp. When the two companies merged in 2002, Pardo took over as president.

Both companies had long adhered to a simple game plan: Find products that solve problems consumers don't realize they have. The products almost always came from independent inventors with great ideas but no ideas about how to sell them. But in recent years, with the rise of social media and YouTube, Pardo has watched the Internet turn almost everyone into a mini-pitchman.

In the days of Ron Popeil, master marketer of the Ronco Rotisserie Oven and other kitchen wonders, a certain showmanship was required to convince people that they needed a product. A commercial needed three basic elements: (1) a horrible problem facing consumers, (2) a device that would finally make that problem disappear, and (3) a hard-to-resist offer for those who ordered immediately.

That classic model still works, but social media make it easier for budget inventors to push their products into the marketplace. And an invention with virtually no practical uses — why buy a Snuggie when you can put on a bathrobe? — can go from the Internet to shelves with just a little help from Facebook and YouTube.

For the Snuggie, the commercial itself had the wow factor — campy, with a complete lack of self-awareness. People couldn't help but post it on their friends' Facebook walls, thus offering a level of brand awareness a late-night infomercial could never buy. By the time the Snuggie hit actual retail outlets, it was already an Internet star. It even inspired Media Corp to hire social-media strategists to pimp their products on Facebook and Twitter.

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