Why Did Viewers Steer Clear of MTV's 'American Mall'?

'HSM' Copycat Has Dismal Premiere but Network to Stick by Teen Musical

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What started out as "American Mall" turned into an American mauling.

On Aug. 11, MTV's high-profile attempt to duplicate the success of rival Disney Channel's "High School Musical" hit a sour note when the premiere of its made-for-TV teen musical "American Mall" was watched by a total 436,000 viewers -- and less than half were in MTV's target demo of 12- to-17-year-olds.
Viewers who saw the ads for 'American Mall' likely saw a blatant attempt to copycat 'High School Musical,' cried fakery and steered clear.
Viewers who saw the ads for 'American Mall' likely saw a blatant attempt to copycat 'High School Musical,' cried fakery and steered clear. Credit: MTV

To put those dismal figures in perspective, MTV's premiere of season four of "The Hills" reached 3.4 million viewers in the same timeslot one week after the premiere of "Mall." Of course, neither show attracted anywhere near the record-breaking 17.1 million viewers who tuned in to the premiere of Disney's "High School Musical 2" last summer, the most for an original cable-entertainment program.

DVD, sountrack fall flat
TV isn't the only place "American Mall" failed to find takers. Sales of the movie's DVD and soundtrack, both released the day after the premiere, have been even more lackluster. The DVD ranked No. 3,317 on Amazon's top-sellers list as of this afternoon, and the soundtrack failed to crack the Billboard Top 100, while Disney-affiliated titles from Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and the "Camp Rock" soundtrack all celebrated multiple weeks in the chart's top positions.

An MTV spokeswoman said it's too early to make any predictions on DVD or soundtrack sales, but the network has a marketing plan in place to continue its efforts to promote "Mall" on broadcast, cable and radio. "The model has worked in the past and works across multiple platforms. Some happen fast and some take longer to build," the spokeswoman said.

So what went wrong? The obvious flaw lies in the "American Mall" marketing plan, which smacked of shameless overkill. MTV made no bones about its attempts to painstakingly re-create every aspect of "High School Musical," from recruiting that show's executive producers and employing the same "Grease"-lite pop/rock songwriting cliches to casting mostly unknown names vaguely familiar to the MTV crowd from the N's "Degrassi" and Fox's "The O.C." Viewers who saw the ads for "American Mall" likely saw a blatant attempt to copycat "High School Musical," cried fakery and steered clear.

MTV also failed to get any juice out of its sponsors, recruiting Sears as the integrated retail partner and Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear as an integrated DVD sponsor (the gag reel is rechristened an "Eraser" gallery to fit the Clean & Clear brand message). Although Sears Sears, Roebuck & Co. Chief Marketing Officer Richard Gerstein promised to market the movie at the retailer's every touchpoint, including an extensive as-seen-on-TV web feature, it failed to lure any shoppers to tune into the film itself. That doesn't bode well for the retailer's new tween-targeted marketing strategy, which is enlisting Facebook, MySpace, Seventeen, CosmoGirl, Nickelodeon and Disney as strategic partners to help reach a younger target.

A Sears spokesperson had no comment when asked by Ad Age about its current plans to market the "Mall" DVD and soundtrack.

Win some, lose some
None of which is to say MTV has lost too much marketing fuel as a result of its failed "Mall" experience, as witnessed by the strong return in viewers to its key franchise "The Hills" and the premiere of crime docu-series "Busted," which debuted Aug. 18 to 1.7 million viewers, making it MTV's highest-rated series premiere of 2008. The first three sentences describing the show's premise say it all: "Ever been in a drunken bar brawl, at an illegal beach party or maybe even been caught with your pants down in public? Literally. You see the flashing red lights, your stomach drops and you know you're screwed ... because you're about to be busted by the cops!"

One week after the "Mall" massacre, MTV already found success doing what it does best: teen debauchery, scripted or otherwise.

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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda
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