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VMA sponsors want those young MTV viewers

With a big audience of 12 to 34 year olds, the show is an advertiser’s dream
/ Source: Forbes

Marketers have long dubbed MTV’s Video Music Awards a Super Bowl for the youth market. Rather than beer-guzzling men, MTV’s much-hyped self-lovefest is a destination for those young, famously fickle eyeballs — and the advertisers desperate to reach them.

This year, they’ll have even more opportunities. The 23rd annual show, which will air live from Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall tonight, will be beamed at those eyeballs on every MTV platform possible. Different versions of the show will be broadcast on MTV, sibling cable channel MTV2 and college-themed cable channel mtvU. The Viacom network will push the multimedia platform further by pinging show updates to cell-phone subscribers and airing behind-the-scenes footage on the network’s broadband channel, MTV Overdrive.

“Today, a 30-second spot, while still the workhorse of an advertiser’s war chest, is not enough to engage the audience on multiple levels,” says Tim Rosta, MTV’s senior vice president of integrated marketing. “We’ve evolved the show to have all of these different ways to deliver the content.”

Advertisers that want a shot at each of MTV’s channels have signed on for official sponsorships; seven will pay between $7 million and $11 million to connect with the young, hard-to-reach demographic, according to a person familiar with the deals. The opportunity isn’t open to just any brand — instead, sponsors must already be big spenders on the network. This year’s sponsors include Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue, General Motors’ Chevrolet and Pepsi, among others.

Though the pot has grown considerably larger, big spending is nothing new for the awards show, which has averaged an audience of 9.6 million over the last five years, according to Nielsen Media Research. Last year, marketers forked over more than $19 million just on in-show advertising, up from the $17.3 million they spent in 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a division of Taylor Nelson Sofres that tracks ad spending.

“There’s no other awards show that has as large or as concentrated an audience of 12- to 34-year-olds as the VMAs,” says Jon Swallen, TNS’s director of research. “So if that’s the market that an advertiser wants to reach, the VMAs have got to be at the top of your list.”

But if last year’s show was any indication, more money and more platforms do not guarantee more eyeballs. The 2005 VMAs, which were clouded by Hurricane Katrina and the shooting of hip-hop impresario Suge Knight, drew just 8 million viewers, its lowest-rated performance in over five years.

Chevrolet has bet that the risk is worth it. It will use the show, hosted by actor Jack Black, to blast its “yellow is the new black” campaign, designed to educate the young demographic about E85 ethanol technology, on MTV’s many screens.

“MTV’s VMA show provides the opportunity to connect with young consumers across multiple platforms,” says Stuart Pierce, Chevrolet’s director of advertising and sales promotion. “We’re telling the young demographic in a culturally relevant way that Chevy has a responsible fuel strategy.”

In addition to a pre-show concert and online advertising, a fleet of Chevy’s E85 ethanol-compatible SUVs will transport talent to the show.

Veteran sponsor Pepsi is hosting an online karaoke contest in which the winner will get to attend the awards show, walk the red carpet and host his or her own show on MTV Overdrive. J.C. Penny, a first-time sponsor, has co-sponsored a national mall tour with the network, and Acuvue will air the most memorable moments from past show performances.

Other marketers are just as happy to piggyback on the show’s buzz — planning to spend big on ancillary activities that draw from the lengthy list of VMA talent.

Among the increasingly popular marketing vehicles, due in part to shrinking advertising budgets, are pre- and post-show parties. While considerably cheaper than a multi-platform sponsorship, these events add up as well. Assuming a guest list of 500, advertisers will foot a bill of more than $500,000, according to our sources.

“What it really comes down to is access. The VMA’s offer the corporate brands access to the celebrities,” says Matt Heien, a principal at EastSide Public Relations. Heien helped Swedka Vodka sponsor a VMA pre-show party Wednesday night at the Bryant Park Hotel. The main attraction, besides free booze, was singer Nick Lachey, best known for his stint as Jessica Simpson’s husband.

“If you want to hit the influencers in the music space, from industry power players to the talent itself, [the VMAs are] a period you can leverage,” explains Nathan Ellis, founder of Syndicate, the firm behind sponsor Virgin Mobile’s “Penny for a Text” post-show party. “In a very fragmented media landscape, [the VMAs] get everyone looking in the same direction at once.”

Even if it is to see another female-on-female celebrity liplock.