MTV opens floodgates for product plugs

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Brands that have long wanted their MTV are finally getting it.

Maybelline, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Domino's Pizza and American Eagle all scored roles in MTV's late summer and fall lineup as the network opens its doors to marketers looking to integrate their products into its shows and target the lucrative young demo that watches them.

While MTV has long allowed other content providers-movie studios and video-game manufacturers-into its programming, its ready acceptance of package-goods, restaurant and retail advertisers signals a new tack for the network, which had worried in the past that such deals would turn off audiences.

MTV has been "cautiously optimistic" when it comes to branded entertainment, said John Shea, exec VP-integrated marketing, MTV Networks' music group. Such deals were a major component of this year's upfront negotiations because, he said, "the rules of the game and audience's reception of that game have changed."

MTV didn't necessarily score big fees for these integration deals, but it did use them to entice advertisers to spend more money on advertising with its networks. Executives close to such deals said that an advertiser increasing its spend from $15 million to $20 million, for example, might get an integration deal as part of its package. The benefit for MTV is not only increasing volumes, but also "firmer" money, as integrated advertisers have fewer options to cancel.

The deals might also hint that, in a multi-media world, MTV isn't quite as dominant as it once was. While it used to have the lock and key on young adults, more advertisers are learning they can target the demo with their own branded-entertainment concepts, which has encouraged reluctant media owners such as MTV to play ball. Nike, for example, and, more recently, Carl's Jr., have created high-traffic youth-oriented entertainment portals online.

Added Laura Caraccoli-Davis, director of Publicis Group's Starcom Entertainment: "[Advertisers] have that ability to say, okay, if you don't want to play we'll go somewhere else or we'll create it ourselves and they don't need anyone's permission or distribution."

INCREASING ACCEPTANCE

But MTV's branded-entertainment change is not only led by marketers' changing needs, said Mr. Shea, but also by its young, marketing-savvy audience's increasing acceptance of such deals.

To be sure, MTV is still very careful about crossing the line when it comes to brand integration. Mr. Shea's barometer: the viewer doesn't see the business deal. Unless, of course, the point is to poke fun at it.

The upcoming MTV summer series "Trailer Fabulous," an ironic take on the home makeover reality genre, features equally ironic product placements with blatant, overt plugs for such brands as Domino's Pizza. When one of the show's stars opens the front door to find a pizza delivery person, she grabs the Domino's box, purring something like, "Mmm, fresh."

"Its tonality cuts to the MTV voice," Mr. Shea said.

Some buyers suggest MTV needs to be more careful when it comes to branded entertainment than other cable or broadcast networks. Mr. Shea recently worked with Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena to retool a co-branded spot tied to MTV Movie Awards because the first spot didn't capture "the vibe of the show."

Another challenge MTV faces in signing up branded-entertainment partners is its historically fast-moving production cycle.

"MTV comes quick and furious," said Ms. Caraccoli-Davis. "If they start to smell a trend, they react really quickly and a lot of times brands don't work in MTV time." While MTV can come out with a new series in six to eight weeks, some marketers work on an 18-month timeline.

Getting in the show

The ink has barely dried on several of MTV’s latest integrated deals.

Marketer: Burger King

Show: "Wild and Out," where improv comedy meets freestyle rap

Premiere: July 28

Deal: BK-branded vignettes featuring show talent rapping about individuality

Marketer: Maybelline

Show: "MTV’s Miss Seventeen," a contest to be "America’s Sweetheart"

Premiere: Fall ’05

Deal: In one episode, a makeup artist schools the girls the night before a makeover challenge.

Marketer: Coca-Cola

Show: "Making the Band IV"

Premiere: October ’05

Deal: Coke’s documentary of a band aired last season. The finale called for entries to be featured in a film surrounding the new season.

Marketer: American Eagle

Show: "Summer on the Strip," a Las Vegas-based take of MTV’s annual summer beach house soiree

Premiere: August

Deal: Retailer has vignettes following beautiful teens in AE in Las Vegas.

Source: MTV

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