By Published on .

Quick cuts. Layered graphics. Quicker cuts. Loud audios. Multiple messages. Louder visuals. Frenetic bursts. Random segues. Crazy movement. The sum could mean only one thing: MTV.

The same tools used to create MTV: Music Television in 1981 have bred another creative revolution in advertising.

"Indirectly, all of advertising has been influenced by MTV," says Bill Davenport, producer at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., agency for Nike. "Once MTV took the shackles off communicating, the advertising naturally evolved."

MTV developed from the evolution of cable TV itself: it allowed programmers and advertisers to target their fare to a specific demographic group. In MTV's case, that meant anyone under 34-various demographic groups with entirely different sets of values and experiences from previous generations of young people.

"At the time, we saw a real opportunity not only in terms of advertisers reaching a specific 12-to-34- year-old demographic, but also in terms of programming to youth," says John Shea, senior VP-ad trade marketing at MTV.

"The instant MTV hit the airwaves, advertisers started taking notice," says Rich Herstek, exec VP-creative director at Houston Effler Herstek Favat, Boston, whose client list includes frequent MTV advertiser Converse Inc.

Advertisers quickly realized MTV provided a new language for reaching a new generation of young adults. "Over time, smart advertisers looked at the style of MTV and recognized there's something going on there that's appealing to the viewer," Mr. Shea says. "It was a whole new environment for communicating."

Many agencies and advertisers copied the MTV quick-cut/montage style directly, with varying degrees of success.

"There seems to be a universe of MTV advertisers, like Nike, Little Caesars, Reebok and Pepsi, who have demonstrated the creative ability to keep up with the whole MTV style," Mr. Shea notes. However, another group of advertisers-including Burger King, with its "BK Tee-Vee"-tried but didn't meet with such friendly results.

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, readily admits that in creating its Sega of America campaigns, the agency looked directly to MTV to produce advertising in the language of that market.

"The style of music videos is part of that generation's culture, and to be successful, you need to talk to the audience in a language they are familiar with," says Jeffrey Jackson, an account planner on Sega at Goodby. "Besides providing video vocabulary, MTV also provides cover so that you can say `Look, MTV is doing this, so we're not that far out there."'

Production advances allowed advertisers to increase the speed of images in commercials, enabling them to keep pace with younger consumers' short-attentions.

"We've taught a generation how to digest information quickly and not worry about the details too much .*.*. which in many ways serves to really elevate [the consumer's] shock threshold," says Mr. Herstek.

Houston Effler created spots in the winter of 1992 for Converse that were as short as five seconds-fleeting billboards flashing on the TV screen-leaving the viewer with nothing more than an impression.

"We've gone from 60- to 30- to 15- to 5- to 3-second commercials," says Ron Kaatz, associate professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "Now if I show students a 60-second commercial, I get yawns-a 15-second with at least seven cuts is more where it is today."

MTV's profound impact on TV commercials in the past decade is continuing to evolve. The once-frenzied style is calming down while still maintaining a quick-cut pace.

Once frenetically paced spots like those for Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew brand seem to have eased their tempos. And the Coca-Cola kaleidoscope-logo by Creative Artists Agency moves rapidly but feels quite graceful and soothing to the eye.

"Clearly, many advertisers have tried to use some of our approaches in their approaches," says Doug Herzog, MTV's exec VP-programming and production. "But while the ad community has kept its eye on MTV, we've also kept our eye on the ad industry-where there's a wellspring of great ideas and great talent."

In terms of music talent, one campaign that's developed almost side-by-side with MTV is Pepsi's latest incarnation of its long-running "Pepsi Generation" theme, the "Choice of a New Generation."

Pepsi-Cola already had tie-ins with '80s rock icon Michael Jackson at the time his "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" videos became popular in 1984, when MTV was being indoctrinated into American culture.

"And since then, the connection has been a back and forth symbiotic situation-the advertising side found its way into videos, and videos found its way into advertising." says Ted Sann, chief creative officer at Pepsi agency BBDO Worldwide, New York.

"The emergence of MTV opened our eyes to a whole new field of talent. Music videos in a large part had not a lot of money, which forced filmmakers to experiment," says Mr. Davenport. "Anyone with a camera produced music videos, so when videos opened to popular culture, they had to affect advertising as well."

Wieden & Kennedy, Nike's agency since 1988, and MTV went so far as to seriously consider the possibility of "swapping talent" for different projects.

"It sounded like a really neat idea at the time [two years ago], but nothing ever came from it. It was too difficult to coordinate," says Mr. Davenport.

Is a 10-year trend enough?

"We're probably heading toward a point where things will be so quick that we will surpass people's ability to process information, and at that point the industry will reassess where they are, but we are a long way from there," predicts Mr. Herstek.

But others, including MTV programmers, say the style already is changing.

"The once-frenetic quality is being toned down to emphasize slow and funky and weird, as opposed to fast and crazed," says Mr. Jackson.

"Our style has changed in 1994," agrees Mr. Herzog. "We no longer move at lightning speed, but have created a more aesthetic style."

Whether it be calm or crazed, MTV and advertising will most likely continue to reflect upon each other.

"MTV will always be an outlet for young imaginative thinking, and I hope we [in advertising and at BBDO] will continue to do the same," says Mr. Sann.

Most Popular
In this article: