Network Faces a Real World of Changing Media Landscapes

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NEW YORK -- Brands that have long wanted their MTV now have their chance.

The newest stars of MTV’s summer and fall programming include Maybelline, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Coca-Cola and American Eagle as the network is in the midst of opening its doors to more companies looking to integrate their products into its shows and target the lucrative young audience that watches them.
MTV's young, marketing-savvy audience has become increasingly accepting of branded entertainment.

A change of tack for the network

The boom in branded entertainment signals a change of tack for MTV, not known in media-buying circles for being generous with its brand equity outside of sharing with other content providers, such as movie studios, record labels and video-game publishers.

In the past, the network has been “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to branded entertainment, said John Shea, executive vice president of integrated marketing at MTV Networks’ music group. But such deals were a major component of this year’s upfront negotiations because, Mr. Shea said, “the rules of the game and audience’s reception of that game have changed.”

“They’ve had to be really protective of their viewer because their audience can see through the BS,” said Laura Caraccoli-Davis, director of Starcom Entertainment, who has worked on a deal that paired Nintendo with MTV’s Wild Boyz program. She notes that while MTV 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, encouraging media owners such as MTV to play ball. Nike, for example, and, more recently, Carl’s Jr., have created highly trafficked youth-oriented entertainment portals online.

Added Ms. Caraccoli-Davis: “[Advertisers] have that ability to say, OK, 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.”

An increasingly accepting audience

But MTV’s branded entertainment makeover is not only led by marketers’ changing needs, said Mr. Shea, but also by its young, marketing-savvy audience becoming increasingly accepting of such branded entertainment deals.

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

Burger King will star in what MTV is coining “showmercials” during the late summer series Wild and Out, a show in which improv comedy meets freestyle rap. The showmercials -- vignettes featuring show talent performing raps about individuality -- will be an extension of BK’s “Have It Your Way” campaign.

Maybelline has signed on as an integrated sponsor of Project Seventeen, a fall 2005 reality program that pits teenage girls against one another for the crown of America’s Sweetheart, a title that has been coined the anti-Paris Hilton. In one of the episodes, a Maybelline makeup artist schools the girls on how to get their best look the night before a makeover challenge; the winner scores a full-page spread in Seventeen magazine.

Coca-Cola, which created a subtly branded three-minute documentary of an indie band on tour that aired after the season finale of Making the Band III, will be back for Making the Band IV, which premieres in October. A 30-second call-to-entry afterward asks aspiring bands to submit essays on why they should be featured in the next mini documentary. More than 500 bands submitted essays to the microsite

Outfitting the cast of 'Real World'

Meanwhile, American Eagle continues its integration into MTV programming, currently outfitting the cast of The Real World: Austin. It will also air branded vignettes during August’s "Summer on the Strip" suite of programming -- this year’s Las Vegas-based take of MTV’s annual summer beach house soiree. The vignettes follow two groups of beautiful teens clad in American Eagle attire as they vacation in Las Vegas. Closing tags direct viewers to, where they can view the clothes close up and head to the retailer’s Web site to purchase them. In the past, American Eagle has sponsored Real World spin-off Road Rules.

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.

Ironic placements in the trailer park

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 brands such 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. If a product placement doesn’t work on The Apprentice, the audience will likely return. But if a product placement doesn’t work on MTV, it could turn the audience off forever.

Mr. Shea cites a deal MTV did with Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena to co-promote the MTV Movie Awards. Originally, the deal included a pre-show spot in which a teenage girl awakes from dreaming she’s at the awards show only to find a blemish on her face and the end of the spot promoted a sweepstakes trip to the show. After screening it, Mr. Shea said it didn’t feel right. “It’s hard to describe what didn’t work about it but it wasn’t enough of an MTV Movie Awards spot,” he said. In the end, MTV and Neutrogena created a new spot that ran post-show, focusing on the fashions from the event and capturing what Mr. Shea calls “the vibe of the show.”

“We were trying to do too much with the first spot,” he said. “These kinds of deals need to do all the business you want them to do but you can’t let that business show up to the viewer.”

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

'MTV comes quick and furious'

“MTV comes quick and furious,” Ms. Caraccoli-Davis said. “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.

Mr. Shea said the lead time requires that partners be nimble and quick on their feet. And when it comes to allocating dollars for such trends, he said smart marketers are drawing “less official lines about what money goes where” and are able to move money around when a good deal arises.
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