Marketing strategy connects by catering to cool

Ideas generated at breakneck speed keep ads fresh

NEW YORK — Not only is “I want my MTV” arguably the most successful branding campaign in the history of cable television but it helped galvanize teens across the U.S. in a united cause.

Created by MTV network honcho and marketing guru Tom Freston, the campaign was MTV’s first, amid stark predictions that the musicvideo net wouldn’t last six months. Since then, MTV has morphed into a global presence by continuously pushing irreverent campaigns that exude a lifestyle of cool, regardless of trend or market.

Poised for the present

“They live in today,” says Tim Brooks, TV historian and co-author of “The Complete Directory to Primetime, Network and Cable TV Shows.” “That means being eternally hip and contemporary. You wouldn’t even know the network is run by adults and that’s the brilliance of it.”

On the not-so-brilliant side of things, Brooks says MTV’s irreverent branding style hinders the network’s ratings because it deliberately excludes settled-down 30-year-olds.

“They are exclusively never going to be the No. 1 cable network,” Brooks says. “What they can be is the exclusive player of that brand.”

A majority of MTV’s brand-bolstering is generated inhouse, mainly from MTV’s marketing department and interns, according to Christina Norman, senior VP of marketing and on-air promotion.

“These are people who are very much connected to music as pop culture and always come up with great ideas,” she says. “Not to say we don’t use out-of-house creatives; we absolutely do. But we don’t have an agency of record.”

Norman says an agency would have a tough time keeping up with MTV’s unique marketing projects on an ongoing basis due to the breakneck speed at which ideas are generated. On any given project, Norman says conception to production can happen in two weeks.

Memorable spots

“Bad Logo” was dreamed up inhouse and debuted during this year’s Video Music Awards. “Bad Logo” features an unsavory character that has an MTV logo in place of a head. In one of the spots, he’s portrayed as a bad visitor, eating pizza and ordering pay-per-view on a friend’s couch.

“It’s such a backhanded kind of branding and that’s another thing that I love about MTV: the ability to take risks,” Norman says. “It’s important in every kind of marketing that we do. Irreverence is a quality that we hold in high regard.”

While MTV’s on-air irreverence drives the network’s brand in the U.S., it’s grassroots ideas and guerrilla tactics that generate buzz overseas.

“Everything is obviously driven on-air, but what we’re trying to do is leverage the brand as much as possible on the ground and through our Web site,” says Matthew Calabria, MTV Asia’s VP of marketing.

He cites “MTV Mobile” as a “huge, growing” opportunity in Asia,” especially among the twentysomethings driving the latest technologies.

“MTV Mobile” steers consumers to the Internet where they download MTV logos to put on their cell phones and download ring tones that sound like a variety of international artists. It offers those customers a chance to “sound off” on their rebellious nature.

“MTV Dirt Busters” launched in Bombay earlier this year. MTV garbage trucks cleaned up parts of the city while the contest spot asked questions based on an anti-pollution drive. Winners received trips to pollution-free places such as Singapore.

“Dirt Busters was quite unique to a market like Bombay, which is in essentially a third-world country,” Calabria says.

In the Philippines market, “MTV in Print” helps drive the brand, a magazine with a circulation of about 25,000.

“What you can’t get on air you can now get in print,” Calabria says. “We’re trying to drive readership, rather than subscriptions.”

An MTV credit card, issued through Citibank, has nabbed upward of 15,000 users in India. The card offers discounts on apparel, music, nightclubs, movies and events surrounding the Video Music Awards, all areas that are especially enticing to MTV’s core demographic.

“Our whole attitude here is to become a part of the lifestyle of the Asian youth,” he says. “The credit card is basically a passport to what’s happening in key markets in India.”

In Argentina, 18 on-air spots employ the character “Roque,” an 8-foot tall cockroach. Roque is a regular kid who mutates into a cockroach. In one spot, he threatens to commit suicide by spraying himself with insecticide.

The campaign is the brainchild of Agulla & Bacetti, one of the most creative agencies in Latin America, according to Christian Jofre, creative director for MTV Latin America.

“Roque is interesting because he talks about diversity,” Jofre says. “After we did our research in Argentina with focus groups and viewer studies, we determined that young people in Argentina believe in diversity.”

Jofre says the concept of the campaign is summed up in the tagline: “If someone different than you is watching the same channel, it is definitely MTV.”

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