Does MTV's New Logo Look Too Mainstream?

Logo Revamp Makes Room for Snooki

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LOS ANGELES ( -- For the first time in its 28-year history, MTV has updated its iconic logo. Largely forgoing the network's music heritage, the new three-dimensional design instead showcases MTV's reality-TV talent, such as the casts of "Jersey Shore," "The Buried Life" and "Teen Mom." But is a new look enough for the struggling Viacom brand?

New MTV logoEnlarge
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Heading into fourth-quarter 2009, MTV was in the midst of a multi-year ratings and revenue decline, with third-quarter ratings alone down about 5% from the year prior, enough to rank the network No. 24 in total viewers during prime-time and 26 during total day. The network hadn't had an up year in ratings since 2005, the last year groundbreaking shows such as "The Osbournes" and "Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica" were on the air.

Then "Jersey Shore" happened.

The controversial reality series -- itself passed to MTV after being developed and ditched by E! for its advertiser-unfriendly ethnic stereotypes -- became MTV's biggest hit in years, its weekly audience often doubling in numbers and finishing the season with 4.8 million viewers, triple the audience that tuned in for its premiere. That show's surprise success seems to have had a halo effect on the rest of MTV's first quarter, as shows such as "Teen Mom," "The Real World: D.C." and "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew" have helped MTV score four of the top 10 cable series among 12- to 34-year-olds, its core demo.

It's those recent successes that MTV general manager Stephen Friedman most wants to represent in its on-air creative, rather than the music-centric brand of the past.

Make the logo more flexible
"Music is still at the center of so much of what we do, but we've really expanded what that means," he said. "We needed the logo to be flexible enough to have the artists within it but also the stars of our shows. It's an updating that speaks to this audience in a much simpler, bolder way."

Mr. Friedman said MTV has also had a problem with brand recognition among viewers who would love certain shows but had no idea they aired on MTV. "The way the logo frames it makes it a simple reference point," he said.

Tina Exharos, MTV's exec VP-marketing, said the logo redesign has been bandied about for the last 10 years among the network's internal design staff.

"We've been so lucky at the MTV because the logo became so iconic very quickly that we were reluctant to mess with it at all," he said. "But these past few years our entire brand DNA has been built on this evolution, so it just felt like it was the right time."

Old MTV logo

New MTV logo
Top: old logo; bottom: new logo.

The logo redesign was a complete re-drawing of the original "M" logo, with subtle but notable changes like an open "V" and of course a blank canvas for images of any MTV reality talent or popular music artist to be inserted. All creative decisions were handled in-house, and MTV did not consult with any external agencies during the redesign. Nor does it work with external agencies for its off-channel marketing, which is also handled in-house.

Losing its character?
However, some leading executives in the ad community think the redesign could still use some work.

"The MTV brand, to me, stands for such an irreverent groundbreaking brand, and unfortunately I feel a little underwhelmed when I look at this," said Hamish McLennan, global chairman-CEO of Young & Rubicam. "It feels like it could be a fashion shoot, and I think it's lost its out-of-the box character and heritage. It was an irreverent brand but now it's very mainstream."

Advertisers seem to have cooled off, too, as the network has fallen from its revenue heyday in 2006 and 2007, two years that saw more than $1 billion in ad revenue, according to SNL Kagan. Since then, spending among advertisers has seen a roughly 10% annual decrease, dropping to an estimated $815.1 million in 2009. Having advertisers such as American Family Insurance, Domino's Pizza and Dell publicly pull their spots from "Jersey Shore" also couldn't have helped matters.

Mr. Friedman said some advertisers who initially pulled out returned to the show later in the season, while movie studios upped their spending in a big way to capitalize on the young audiences tuning in every week. "A show like that is not going to be for everyone, but some of the new shows we've launched, like 'The Buried Life,' 'Life as Liz' and 'If You Really Knew Me,' show a lot more diversity to our advertisers than we've had in the past."

Ms. Exharos added that MTV is currently experimenting with the idea of creating a tagline to accompany its new on-air look. In the coming months, the marketing team will roll out several off-channel consumer campaigns for shows like "Buried Life," a "Bucket List"-style adventure series in which a quartet of young males check stunts and destinations off their list of things to do before they die, and "Hard Times," a scripted series about a high-schooler endowed with rather impressive, um, equipment.

"We do think the beauty of MTV is how diverse it is, and the new logo really does reflect the people who are watching it," Ms. Exharos said.

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