Audiences today relish the on-demand lifestyle afforded by digital technology, which makes those audiences more fragmented, distracted, and mercurial than ever. Many of MTV’s young viewers are online while they are watching TV, and they are prone to skip through ads with the aid of their digital video recorders (DVRs). We know this, and our advertisers know it too, which is why MTV Networks (MTVN) has made branded entertainment and brand integration a major part of the company’s business model.
At MTVN, we are working differently with advertisers by developing unconventional yet relevant opportunities to connect them with our brands — and, therefore, connect them to our viewers. We are collaborating more with marketers and their agencies to create content partnerships. (This is what Madison Avenue calls branded entertainment.)
It used to be that professional media companies like MTVN created content, which advertisers “borrowed” to help sell their product. They dropped their marketing message into a commercial pod or ran it in a display ad alongside a relevant article.
Now our marketers want to be part of the content. They want to trade off the halo of MTVN’s brands — the “cool” factor. They want MTVN to drive traffic to and registrations on their Web sites. They want our consumer insights on the brand preferences and interests of kids and young adults, which are based on more than 500 studies every year of MTV’s consumers. Most significantly, these marketers want relevance, credibility, and engagement that goes well beyond what traditional advertising can deliver. They don’t want a commercial; they want their brand integrated into an authentic entertainment experience.
In the fall of 2008, we launched an original series on our college-oriented channel, mtvU, and its Web site, in partnership with Hewlett-Packard Company (HP), that is emblematic of this new trend. This five- to seven-minute reality show, called Engine Room, features 16 young digital artists from around the world divided into four regional teams, each competing for US$400,000 and the chance to program the giant MTV screen in Times Square for one night. The series is underwritten by HP, and the PCs, workstations, monitors, and printers featured on the show are all made by HP.
Engine Room follows another successful partnership between HP and mtvU on a show called Meet or Delete, in which contestants decide whom to date on the basis of the contents of their HP computers (a cyber-version of our popular show Room Raiders). Our joint forays into branded entertainment have certainly helped HP demonstrate how radically the marketing value chain has evolved. Five years ago, HP first looked to enhance its marketing integration as one of the sponsors of the flagship MTV event, the Video Music Awards. Now we are running truly global branded entertainment initiatives together that have helped HP become the world’s leading PC seller. Major marketers such as Ford, General Electric, Unilever, and PepsiCo have pursued similar initiatives with MTVN in the last year.
This convergence of programming and advertising is part of the natural evolution of the marketing and media ecosystem, and we have to adapt to thrive — but we also have to be mindful of the risks. We cannot do anything that will compromise the quality of our content and brands. MTVN’s most critical assets are its creative integrity and its relationships with fans. We have to protect both, always making sure that we’re entertaining our audiences, not pitching to them.
These marketing partnerships require a very different approach to advertising sales. We’re no longer just producing great content and then looking for sponsors. We’re collapsing that process, in many cases, and working directly with advertisers to develop programming that meets their needs, as well as the interests of our audiences.
This approach requires greater integration not only with clients but within MTVN. We’re bringing together sales, integrated marketing, research, and programming resources to cement a much more extensive relationship with our marketing partners. Toward that end, we recently expanded the role and responsibilities of our in-house strategic alliance team, which we’ve named Generator. Generator acts as a central, holistic point of contact for key clients seeking deeper partnerships across our portfolio. Throughout our organization and with Generator in particular, we are approaching our marketers in a more consultative fashion, pushing our teams to define all the interesting ways our media brands and other assets can help drive the client’s business.
This is a convergent sales approach designed to meet the needs of a convergent marketplace. And it is just the beginning of what MTV Networks can do when it leverages its brands, programming, creativity, talent relationships, and distribution as a complete marketing partner, and not just as a media vendor.
Carolyn Everson is executive vice president and chief operating officer for advertising sales at MTV Networks, which creates programming and content across all media platforms.