NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When it comes to flexibility with advertisers, MTV has morphed in recent years into the Flex Armstrong of cable networks. Whether it's creating branded miniseries for its top-rated reality shows like "The Hills", customizing its music-video vault for AT&T or building an entire series around men's deodorant, there are few wares the Viacom cable network hasn't made available to advertisers. This weekend marks another milestone in MTV advertainment with the first ever branded MTV Video Music Award.
Pepsi bought the rights to one of the awards that will now be known as the Best Performance in a Pepsi Rock Band Video Award, which will be presented during the live telecast this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. The award is the culmination of an ongoing "Rock Band" campaign Pepsi has co-sponsored with MTV Networks' Harmonix* game. Nearly 700 gamers submitted their own "Rock Band"-inspired music video for a chance at their very own Moonman (the VMA equivalent of an Oscar). As a sign of the modern MTV viewer's brand savvy, the top-rated entries were from viewers who integrated Pepsi products into their music videos.
The consumers behind the winning video, selected from more than 200,000 viewer votes, will accept their award as part of a lead-in to a commercial break featuring a 30-second Pepsi commercial. "Pepsi's been involved with the VMAs for a very long time, and has always been involved with the latest thing going on in the music industry," said Meg Hammond, senior marketing manager at Pepsi. "This year we wanted to do something that tied into one of the biggest things you can get at the VMAs. This is the first Moonman ever given away to a non-professional, so we wanted to do something with 'Rock Band' where people could make videos and showcase their talent."
Other returning sponsors for this weekend's VMAs include Taco Bell, which held its first in-store promotion for the awards by advertising its sponsorship on 50 million of its 30-ounce cups. Taco Bell will also sponsor the VMA "house band," D.C.-based rapper Wale, as part of its "Feed the Beat" promotion.
Verizon Wireless is sponsoring its second "All-Access" VMA program, in which its V Cast service will be showcased in behind-the-scenes footage of VMA nominees 3OH!3, as well as sponsored online units, voting promotions and text alerts.
New this year is Sears, which is sponsored a contest to find the fifth member for its "Arrive Lounge Air Band," with the winner to be revealed in four vignettes during the VMA pre-show.
The VMAs will also include the exclusive premiere of the two-minute trailer of Sony Pictures' Michael Jackson concert documentary, "This Is It."
John Shea, MTV's exec VP-integrated marketing, said this year's VMAs are sold out and continue to be the biggest tentpole for the network, not just in terms of audience but establishing longer marketing relationships with clients. "The VMAs is the biggest thing we do all year. It allows us to evolve and demonstrate our prowess with advertisers and marketing partners. It has a major impact on music downloads, it's significant to our artist relationships. And it's the most significant opportunity to demonstrate our creative prowess."
MTV could use the boost in the midst of a major ratings slump, with ratings down 14% in second-quarter alone. Last year's VMAs, up 14% to 8.4 million viewers, were a much-needed shot in the arm of an otherwise dismal fourth quarter, which was down 21% among MTV's core youth demo. Viacom seems to be having good luck with awards shows in recent months, with June's BET Awards scoring the year's highest-rated cable telecast the weekend after Michael Jackson's passing.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified the video game maker behind "Rock Band" as Activision, not Harmonix.