MTV likes playing on the ad team

Taking branding a step further, net creates content for partners

John Shea, executive vp integrated marketing and brand partnerships at the MTVN Music and Logo Group, has been at the forefront of MTV Networks' innovative branded entertainment and programming solutions for advertisers. MTV has been one of the most aggressive and prolific networks in creating original programming for advertisers rather than just integrating brands into pre-existing shows. For its Video Music Awards on Sunday, MTV also has created out-of-the-box marketing tie-ins for several advertising partners, including Taco Bell, Herbal Essences, Neutrogena and Pepsi. MTV also has recently started producing more shortform serialized content running as commercial pod takeovers for advertisers like Nike, which is airing the finale of its six-part series about the U.S. women's national soccer team during the VMAs. The Hollywood Reporter marketing reporter Gail Schiller recently spoke with Shea about MTV's branded entertainment strategy for its advertiser clients.

The Hollywood Reporter: How long has MTV been working with advertisers on branded entertainment initiatives?

John Shea: MTV has been at the forefront of this almost since our birth in 1981. In the very early days, we integrated partners in unique ways around big events. One of the first things I worked on at MTV in the late 1980s was the Coke Island Giveaway, a weekend cruise on a Coke-branded ship with music performances to an island in the middle of nowhere. I think MTV has evolved and innovated ahead of the curve in integrated marketing, but I also feel like the industry and the marketplace have definitely evolved at lightning speed the past five years.

THR: What are the best examples of branded entertainment solutions MTV has created for its advertiser clients?

Shea: Some of our best work came out of one of the partnerships we created with Hewlett-Packard around a show called "Meet or Delete." It is basically a multiplatform reality show about people deciding whether they are interested in meeting a potential mate by going through the content on their computer. It was a hugely successful show that originated on mtvU and ran on all MTV platforms in a variety of executions. The ratings were great, and the advertiser loved it. The ROI on the online pieces of it was through the roof. In June, we greenlighted the second season of "Meet or Delete." Given the show's success in its first year, HP nearly doubled the size of its sponsorship. Another successful longform example is what we did with MTV2 and the Dew Circuit Breakout Tour. This is basically a show on MTV2 that we originated with the Mountain Dew brand. The show, which is going into its fourth season, discovers unsigned bands. … Lastly, we've had an ongoing relationship with Target, which features a designer every quarter who has made clothing for the store during that three-month period. The most recent of those designers is a team called Libertine. We created a 3-minute, 30-second commercial pod takeover for them. It told the story of two fictitious interns who were working for Libertine and found themselves on the runway. It was a short story we told in their commercial time and promoted significantly prior to it going on the air. In the process, we aggressively promoted the Libertine clothing line at Target.

THR: Which types of branded entertainment initiatives do you think we'll see more of from MTV in the future?

Shea: The Target partnership is one example of where we're heading with the right clients — creating serialized shortform content. For the American Eagle partnership, we have 12 of those 31/2-minute shortform pieces strung together to tell one story as a narrative tied to "The Real World." In this case, they are producing the content, but we are also creating content for advertisers and are moving more and more in that direction. For instance, we're doing a similar deal with Nike to play out in their commercial time leading up to the Video Music Awards. We produced six spots, and the finale of the entire narrative is airing during the VMAs. The overall notion here is that we as an industry — and we as a channel — are moving more toward collaborating to create storytelling with and through our advertising partnerships.

THR: Has MTV experienced any negative feedback from its viewers with so much branded content on the air?

Shea: Honestly, we have not. I'd like to think the reason for that is we are telling the right stories in the right way and integrating advertising messages in ways that the audience finds compelling. I think we're also working with an audience that is much more receptive to invention and change.

THR: Where do you see branded entertainment headed?

Shea: I think we're going to get into more of a conversation about this notion of original production and not so much traditional integration or integration into pre-existing programming. I think more and more, shortform, longform and multiplatform content are going to be co-produced and co-created by media and advertisers together. Some advertisers and networks have a more robust appetite for that, and others don't. Our best relationships are with advertisers who are interested in the future. I think we're going to see the industry's silos — where one ad agency is doing the buying, another is doing the creating and then the media is a place to put that messaging — will be broken down and reconfigured.

John Shea

Exec vp integrated marketing,

MTVN Music and Logo Group

Work experience: Joined MTV in 1988 as director of marketing and promotions, rising to senior vp marketing by 1998; moved to DreamWorks as part of its location-based marketing team; returned to MTV in 1999 as senior vp integrated marketing; promoted in 2004 to executive vp integrated marketing at MTVN Music and Logo Group, which encompasses MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo