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LEGO Bar Columbus – The “Brick Bar” Pop Up

Walker Evans Walker Evans LEGO Bar Columbus – The “Brick Bar” Pop Up
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An unlicensed LEGO pop-up bar event is slated to occur in Columbus in March… maybe.

The event series, known as “The Brick Bar” is not actually sponsored, authorized or endorsed by LEGO according to the event’s website, although the press release issued back in November on behalf of the event organizers mentions LEGO by name in nearly every single sentence.

The pop-up event is organized by Australia-based “Viral Ventures,” a company that specializes in the creation of events that center on pop culture intellectual property without actually having the license to use said intellectual property.

Viral Ventures has hosted events in major cities all around the world, and some of their other events include Mushroom Rally (a Mario Kart style go kart racing event that is not licensed by Nintendo), Pokébar (a Pokémon themed pop-up bar that is not licensed by The Pokémon Company), and The Wizard’s Cauldron (a Harry Potter themed pop-up bar that is not licensed by Warner Brothers).

Brick Bar Déjà Vu

If the 2020 edition of The Brick Bar event sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve heard about it before. A press release was issued to local media outlets in Columbus in March 2019 for a September 2019 event that never materialized. Both the 2019 and 2020 press release event announcements arrived with no venues attached — instead, asking that interested attendees sign up to be notified when tickets go on sale on the Brick Bar’s website.

Brick Bar events planned for other cities in Fall 2019 were also quietly cancelled, including planned pop-ups in Miami and Pittsburgh.

“Due to the logistics of shipping the structure from city to city we changed some of our tour dates around,” stated Mary Carter with Adam and Eve PR, the contact that emailed the event’s press release to Columbus Underground. Both Pittsburgh and Miami events were shifted to Spring 2020.

On November 8, a Brick Bar event occurred in Cincinnati at the American Sign Museum. Online reports from several attendees stated that no food was provided at the event — as was originally advertised — and many of the decor elements featured in promotional videos were also missing.

“Unfortunately, our Brick Bar Fountain was lost in shipping from California to Cincinnati,” explained Carter via email in November. “Luckily, it was actually found this morning so it will be back at all future events. The burgers were not advertised for the Columbus location so there should not be an issue in that regard.”

Wait for it… it Starts to Get Weirder

Bungling some event logistic is by no means a crime, but communications with Carter at Adam and Eve PR were a bit stilted — more so than normal dealings with random PR companies — so we decided to do a bit more digging.

Searching for additional information about “Adam and Eve PR” turned up zero results. The Adam and Eve PR domain name from Carter’s email address leads to a wix.com placeholder error page, and searches on Google and LinkedIn revealed no further information about Adam and Eve PR.

When asked directly — multiple times — if Adam and Eve PR is a real company, Carter did not respond.

An email to LEGO’s Customer Service inquiring about the existence of Brick Bar events was met with much quicker response. A representative stated that they “monitor issues such as lookalike products made by other companies very carefully” and noted that our email inquiry was “passed on to the right LEGO® department for review.”

PokéBar – The Pokémon Pop-Up Bar – And More Weirdness

In August 2019, Columbus Underground received a press release from Terry Adams at Hyper Public Relations about an “Epic Pokémon-Inspired Pop-Up Bar” coming to Columbus in 2020 at an undisclosed location. Adams confirmed upon inquiry that “This event is in no way affiliated with Nintendo, GameFreak or The Pokémon Company” despite promotional language and visuals clearly depicting Pokémon characters, catch phrases, and other intellectual property.

Columbus Underground decided not to publish a story back in August about this event launch announcement based on the legal issues surrounding the unauthorized IP usage.

Promotional images for the Epic Pokémon-Inspired Pop-Up Bar, provided by “Hyper Public Relations

Throughout October, several regional news outlets announced that PokéBar Pop-Ups planned in other cities including Atlanta, Miami, Denver and Cleveland had been postponed, rebranded as “The Monster Brunch” and later cancelled all together. An article on Eater.com attributed a quote from Adams to being a representative of “Wonderland Events,” but no additional information about that business name can be found anywhere online.

An inquiry from Columbus Underground to Adams on November 1 went unanswered. Just like Adam and Eve PR, the Hyper Public Relations domain name also leads to a wix.com placeholder error page and searches on Google and LinkedIn show no other information about the existence of this PR firm. When asked directly — multiple times — if Hyper Public Relations is a real company, Adams did not respond.

Both the original PokéBar Pop-Up website and updated Monster Brunch website have since been replaced with the same generic wix.com placeholder error page.

The Maze: A Pac-Man Party – Plus, Even More Weirdness

On October 31, 2019, Columbus Underground received an email from Lisa Brown at Boost PR, proclaiming that an “immersive Pac-Man inspired escape maze is coming to Columbus this April,” this time pointing to a landing page for email signups with a copyright attribution indicating that the event is being run/managed by a company known as “Immersive Gaming.” The site also included a disclaimer that they are not associated with Bandai Namco, the owners of Pac-Man.

The promotional image for the “Pac-Man Inspired Escape Maze” provided by “Boost PR”

While the name of the event and the name of the company listed on the landing page website has changed, Viral Ventures promoted the same event in April 2019 in Melbourne, Australia with the same image and language, referring interested parties to sign up for tickets at ThePacMaze.com, which now lands on a wix.com placeholder error page.

Unlike the first two public relation companies, Boost PR actually had a currently functioning website. The site appeared to have been built with a standard wix.com template with a generic stock photo representing Lisa Brown, and a residential address in Toronto as the business address. The only client projects listed on the Boost PR website were Viral Ventures events.

Some quick Google searching found around a dozen additional template websites using the photo of “Lisa Brown” from Boost PR and a handful of other sites — such as ND2Media — using the same employees names but with different stock photos and different employee titles.

When asked directly — multiple times — if Boost PR is a real public relations company, Brown did not respond to the inquiry. The stock photos and additional details were removed from the Boost PR website shortly after the Columbus Underground inquiry — screenshots below reflect the original layout before edits were made.

Top: The “Team” at Boost PR. Bottom: The “Team” at ND2Media. Same names, different titles, different stock photos.

The Mushroom Rally – The Only Columbus Event to Happen Thus Far

All the way back in October 2018, Columbus Underground received a press release from James Harrison at Karmarama PR, promoting the “Mushroom Rally” event coming to Columbus in Early 2019. The Miami New Times reported in May 2019 that the event was also a production of Viral Ventures.

While the description steers clear of the word “Mario,” it’s clearly designed as an “IRL” version of Mario Kart, complete with Nintendo mascot character costumes and courses designed with bricks and blocks and mushrooms from the video game series. At some point over the past year, the Mushroom Rally website now redirects to a “Costume Karting” website where the organizing entity is listed as “Wonderland Events.”

It’s worth noting that Nintendo successfully sued a different company in Japan in 2018 for copyright infringement over similar types of Mario Kart events. In the world of video games and entertainment, Nintendo is well-known for their aggressive defense of their intellectual property.

Two of the images promoting the Mushroom Rally events, from the Mushroom Rally Facebook page.

To date, The Mushroom Rally is the only event produced by Viral Ventures / Wonderland Events that has actually occurred in Columbus. Two race days were hosted on June 23 and 29, 2019 at GPK Indoor Entertainment on Alum Creek Drive.

“We had a great event and the customers enjoyed it,” stated Christopher Bowen, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at GPK. “It sold out with 1,500 participants over the two days. We didn’t promote it or sell tickets to it, but were happy to rent them the track and the space.”

One of the Columbus Mushroom Rally events listed on Facebook was co-hosted by a Facebook page called “Hidden Columbus.” The page is listed as a News & Media Website with 16 followers (at the time of publishing) that has only ever republished a handful of Instagram photos since it launched in April 2019, along with promoting the Mushroom Rally event. According to the “Page Transparency” tab on Facebook, Hidden Columbus has two page managers, both of which are in Australia.

Similar “Hidden City” Facebook pages can be found for other metros where Viral Ventures has promoted events, including Las Vegas, San Francisco and Cincinnati. All of those pages also have very few followers, and exclusively promote Viral Ventures events.

When asked about the legitimacy and purpose of these Facebook pages, Carter of Adam and Eve PR responded that we would “have to follow up with this [sic] pages directly.”

Screenshot from Facebook of several “Event Partner” pages for Viral Ventures events.

Additionally, a Brick Bar event held in Chicago on January 31 was listed as being co-hosted by a Facebook page called MyNightPass.com, which has a bit larger of a following, but also appears to exclusively exist to promote Viral Ventures events. The website for MyNightPass follows the same template as most other Viral Ventures event pages — a contact form asking for your city and your email address.

As far as Karmarama PR goes — once again, the domain name directs visitors to a wix.com placeholder error page and no further information about Karmarama PR can be found by searching the web.

Taking Press Releases at Face Value

According to a Muckrack article from 2018, public relations jobs outnumbered journalism jobs by six to one with that ratio expected to climb exponentially in the coming years. What that means is that journalists are bombed with more press releases than they know what to do with on a daily basis.

The vast majority of those press releases come in the form of emails from representatives at professional PR and communications companies acting in good faith on behalf of their clients. While journalists should be naturally skeptical, it’s easy to take the contents of a press release at face value.

This tactic has scored some easy publicity for Viral Ventures events, even though their announcement emails are for loosely planned pop-ups six months out with no venues secured. At face value, a Mario Kart party or Pokémon bar sounds like a good time, and a fun news story that will resonate, particularly with a Millennial audience.

Cursory searches for Viral Ventures events turn up breezy promotional articles in Orlando Weekly, Bustle, Eater, Columbus Alive, Cincinnati.com, The Houston Chronicle and dozens of others.

Only a handful of articles published about Viral Ventures events have been remotely critical.

“Do you enjoy giving your email address to international promotors promising wacky, zany, and Instagram-friendly pop-up events that may or may not actually happen?” questioned Matt Wild in a Milwaukee Record article from October 2019.

Laura Morrison at Cleve Scene wrote about the Brick Bar announcement last October, detailing the cancellation of the Pokébar events and raising skepticism about the knock-off LEGO party’s likelihood of happening.

“If it does indeed happen, it would be the first Viral Ventures event to ever come to fruition in Cleveland,” she stated. “So far the planned pop-up ball pit, Pokémon and LEGO-themed bars have all either been canceled outright or postponed. That’s not exactly the best track record.”

What Does All of This Mean?

In the internet age of copy/pasting, sharing, re-sharing and remixing, many people do not take intellectual property appropriation too seriously. When someone sees a party being thrown around a pop culture touchstone like Mario Kart or LEGO, your natural instinct as a potential party attendee might be to get excited and immediately overlook whether or not this is a legal use of licensed property.

Multiple inquires were made over the span of several months to Viral Ventures founders James Farrell and Aden Levin. Farrell confirmed the ability to answer some questions on behalf of his company in November, and the following four questions were submitted on behalf of Columbus Underground:

1. Many of your US events have been centered around the use of intellectual property owned by other companies that ViralVentures does not have an official relationship with (based upon the disclaimers on landing pages). I read that the Pokébar series was cancelled after some pushback from Nintendo. Is there concern that other events (Mushroom Rally, The Maze, Brick Bar, etc) could be cancelled in a similar fashion?

2. Most of the US events in 2019 appear to be announced four to six months early without a venue and with landing pages that collect email addresses for future ticket notifications. Some of the events appear to end up cancelled, or never end up actually happening. Is there any concern with blowback from promoting events lacking in details that don’t come to fruition?

3. The four press releases that we’ve received for events promoted as planned in Columbus Ohio have come from four different PR companies. All four of those PR companies do not have working domain names and have no search history that they are existing companies. Only one (“Boost PR”) had a working site, which was a generic WIX template with stock photos and stock names of representatives. When I responded to the email from Boost PR and asked about this, no answer was given and the website template was updated to remove the stock photos and names. (I can send screenshots to demonstrate the changes). Are these PR companies fake? Is Viral Ventures creating “shell” PR companies for promotional purposes?

4. Several Viral Ventures events indicate that they are run/owned by other event companies such as “Wonderland Events” or “Immersive Gaming.” Are these actual event companies, or aliases / alternate names for Viral Ventures? Googling these companies, trademarks and business registration records turns up no information.

I will likely have some follow ups, but this is probably a good place to start.

The complete response to that email, from Farrell:

“Many thanks for your email. We at Viral Ventures host and partner with a number of local and national organisations to promote events with the intention of bringing exciting and unique events to new cities and use various channels in which to promote them. In bringing new events to new cities it can take time in organising them and gauging local interest which can take a few months.”

Viral Ventures appears to be operating in some very gray area with many of their events, and are likely one Cease and Desist letter away from canceling future pop-up parties in Columbus and other cities.

That being said, if Viral Ventures is using fake PR companies to promote their events, that should raise some red flags for ticket buyers, event venues, event sponsors and anyone else involved. The details of these PR interactions were run past Sandy Harbrecht, CEO of Paul Werth Associates (a respected Columbus PR firm with nearly 60 years in business), who stated that she’s never heard of anything like this, and referred to the PRSA Code of Ethics, which professional communication firms are expected to abide by.

The Brick Bar is currently planned to take place in Columbus at The Kitchen on Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7. Tickets range from $15 to $20 (plus fees) and each guest is admitted for a 90 minute session. There is a “no refunds” policy for ticket buyers, and tickets are being sold online through the Canadian domain for Eventbrite.

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