Volume 17 • Issue 3 | June 11 - 17, 2004

Young, hip and savvy

Two southern brothers come north and find success downtown

By Jackie Marinese

The brothers: Mike, left, and Steve Malbon.

Though they were born into farm life, Mike and Stephen Malbon now run a cutting-edge marketing firm on Canal Street. Born in Virginia, the brothers – Mike is now 30 and Stephen, 28 — grew up with the legacy of their grandfather’s family hog farm business looming over them. But farming was not for them, and like millions of other young people, headed to New York. But they did something not many do.

Immersing themselves in their passion — the downtown club and music scene – the savvy brothers saw an opportunity. They realized that, from soda to fast food, many of the country’s largest marketing campaigns align themselves with extreme sports, hip-hop or other youth cultures. But they don’t often do it well.

“A lot of companies are doing these huge campaigns, but there’s a huge disconnect with the people they are trying to reach,” said Mike, whose first job in New York was modeling for a hip-hop clothing company.

That’s because much of the business is in regional markets. That’s where the brothers come in. Many Hip-hop artists and sports players are known only in certain parts of the country. And while an ad team may choose to go national with such a figure, the ad may not have the desired impact.

“It may look good for press or the shareholders, but what did you really do about reaching kids in a certain region?” said Mike.

“malbon Brothers Farms” (mBF) occupies a large, loft overlooking the corner of Canal Street and Broadway. Their clients now include The Coca Cola Company, Toyota, ESPN, New Balance, Ride Snowboards, and Energy Brands.

“What we know how to do basically is connect major clients with the streets,” said Mike.

Their downtown loft, is actually their second home. They first set up shop uptown, near Central Park.

“Though we had a great deal on the space,” said Mike, “We felt like there was a big disconnect with what we were trying to accomplish. Our whole community is down here.”

For the 20 or so staff members of mBF, there’s a thin line, if any, between the world they live in and work in. The brothers even coined a name for this phenomenon, “Verge Culture.” They exist at the intersection of lifestyle, music, and fashion that make up the most coveted consumer group.

In keeping with their grassroots approach, the brothers have organized “street teens.” In cities like LA and Chicago, they now have scores of teenagers and twenty-somethings, clad in city-specific tee shirts, distributing their new publication. The “Frank151 Book,” is a pocket-sized publication with information on up and coming artists. Many of them are budding musicians, artists and fashion designers themselves.

“We are what we write about,” said Christian Alexander, who does industry relations for Frank151.

By specifically working with young people in each city, the Malbons say they have a better grasp than larger agencies on what young people are interested in and where.

They now intend to keep the names “Frank151” and “malbon Brothers Farms” ringing in both the boardrooms and on the streets of art scenes around the country.

Downtown Express is published by
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