I Want My MTV! Part 4
The “I Want My MTV!” story wouldn’t be complete without a look at Dire Straits’ music video “Money for Nothing.” Mark Knopfler originally wrote the song after seeing a store wall of television sets tuned to MTV. During recording Sting dropped into the recording session and added the melody of his “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” with the then unbiquitous ”I Want My MTV!” and forever pushed our battle cry out of advertising history and into the cultural slipstream (the film went on to be honored as the 1986 VMA Video of the Year). If there was ever a more effective branding accident I don’t know what it is.
I never asked Dale Pon about his reaction to this unusual turn of events. If he responds to my email about it I’ll fill you in.
…:::Update from Dale Pon:
Absolutely amazing! I was very happy.
Twitchy that the campaign was familiar, there were those ready to quit “I Want My MTV!” They hadn’t heard that change is good, but not for its own sake.
The Sting singing won them over; “I Want My MTV!” was new again – maybe there in 1985, we were still striking a “responsive chord.” Some say, it still resounds.0 comments Tagged: Dale Pon, IWMM, MTV, MTV posts, advertising, branding, lkj,.
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‘I Want My MTV’ 1-4 1982-1983 from fredseibert on Vimeo.
I WANT MY MTV! took the phenomenon that had taken over the imaginations of young America and supercharged it into a famous brand with just about everyone in the country. I just googled “I Want My MTV” and it popped up almost 4,760,000 results. Pretty amazing for an advertising campaign that ceased to exist 22 years ago.* Pretty potent.
The whole thing was the work of my mentor and friend Dale Pon. He’d been my first boss in the commercial media, at WHN Radio in New York when it was a country music station. He’d recommended me for my job at Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, as the production director of The Movie Channel, and eventually as the first Creative Director of MTV: Music Television. We’d fallen in and out over the years, but in late 1981, when it came time for us to hire an advertising agency again —at first, our big boss had vetoed Dale as not heavy enough for a company like ours— with a lot of help from my immediate supervisor Bob Pittman, I was able to convince everyone that Dale understood media promotion better than anyone else in America. Besides, didn’t he have “insurance” with his partner, legendary adman George Lois?
Dale Pon (via MTV: The Making of a Revolution)
No one had ever encountered an adman like Dale, because he had the unique ability to be completely and analytically strategic, and be wildly —and smartly— creative at the same time. An almost unheard of combination, especially in media advertising. Sure, he had a volatile nature, in advertising that was often a given (look at his partner). But it was his strategic, creative abilities that really set him apart.
Tagged: Dale Pon, MTV, MTVposts, WASEC, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, advertising, branding, IWMM,.
We’d already done our first trade campaign, the “cable brats,” to the discomfort of most of the suits in the corporate marketing group (Bob and his team, me included, were in programming). But Dale didn’t buy into the efficacy of trade ads anyhow, so now were onto the big show, television advertising. The only problem was that we all recognized that an effective campaign would cost about $10,000,000. Our budget only had $2,000,000, and if we didn’t spend it quickly the corporate gods would probably take it away in the fall.
“I want my Maypo” commercials, created by John Hubley
Looking back, the core creative ended up being the most straightforward part. Dale’s closest friend and creative partner, Nancy Podbielniak had written the cable brats copy and had a tag line “Rock’n’roll wasn’t enough for them — now they want their MTV!” That rung a bell in George Lois, someone who never missed a chance to abscond with someone else’s good idea, and decided to rip off his own knock off of a Maypo campaign from the 1950s and 60s (animator John Hubley originated it as a set famous animated spots, and George had unsuccessfully knocked it off usin g sports stars) and presented a storyboard that completely duplicated his version. Rock stars like Mick Jagger were saying “I Want My MTV” and crying like babies, implying they were spoiled children being denied. No one was buying it until Dale let me know that there was no way he’d ask Pete Townshend or Mick to cry for us. “Pride! They need to show their pride in rock’n’roll! They’ll be shouting!” After a little corporate fuss we were able to sell it in.
AMERICA! DEMAND YOUR MTV!
Now, it was the next part that was completely and utterly brilliant. Because Dale came from the school that great creative was all well and good, but unless it could move the business needle, what good was it? In this case, the needle wasn’t ratings (cable TV didn’t have ratings in 1981), but active households, distribution for MTV. Cable operators were all relatively old guys who thought The Weather Channel was a better idea; they’d turned a deaf ear to their younger employees who were clamoring for us instead.
To dramatically simplify the strategy Dale organized, he decided to only advertise in markets where:
• There was enough penetration to justify a modest ad spend.
• But where there were critically large cable operators on the fence about taking MTV.
• And that we could afford a 300 gross rating point buy (three times heavier as any consumer products agency would suggest) for at least four weeks in a row (the traditional media spend would call for pulsing 10 days on and 10 days off).
The “G” in LPG/Pon was Dick Gershon. Along with data from our affiliate group, he crunched and crunched and crunched until he came up with a list of markets and dates we could afford. It was 20% of what we needed, but everyone figured if we could really start to knock off a bunch of cable systems, get them actually launch our network, the domino effect would solidify MTV’s hold on the market forever.
Strategy in place, the creative was back on the front burner. The basic campaign was a great way to get famous rock stars endorsing our channel, but where was the close? What would actually make the ‘ka-ching’ we needed? Luckily, back in the day there was only one way to for a homeowner get anything from your reluctant jerk of a cable operator (they figure they held all the cards, why should they do anything to make life better for their consumers?). And what was it that young adults loved to do? Dale knew immediately.
No one alive in front of a television set in the summer of 1982 could ever forget Pete Townshend, with the wackiest haircut of his career, shouting at the video camera:
“America! DEMAND your MTV! Call your cable operator and say, “I WANT MY MTV!!”
We shot the spots wherever the rock stars would have us for 20 minutes (they still weren’t really sure this MTV: Music Television thing was going to be good for them). Our director and producer, Tommy Schlamme and Buzz Potamkin, got together with some puppeteers to choreograph the ‘dancing’ stereo television. I asked my partner to go into the studio to edit the music sections when they weren’t rocking enough, and —poof!— famous advertising.
Nothing to it, yes?
* For comparison, “I Want My Maypo” posts 112,000 results on Google. Or “Where’s the beef?”, another famous 1980’s campaign for Wendy’s returns 176,000 (or if you only use that phrase, which has been appropriated for all sorts of uses, you get 2,640,000).
Before “I Want My MTV!” Part 1.
I was torn.
My mentor, Dale Pon, had suggested me for my job at MTV Networks (née Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company). He was the creator of distinctive, innovative, and successful campaigns for radio stations across the United States, was a creative and media wizard, if a little, um, intense, and had worked at WNBC radio with my boss Bob Pittman, MTV programming chief. Dale had recently started an ad agency, LPG/Pon with advertising legend George Lois.
John Lack, our executive vice president, was very close to Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency for American Express, our half owner. My first exposure to the idea that advertising could be actually be smart came from reading founder David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” (If fact, it was one of four books I gave to my young staff members.)
I wanted Dale to do the MTV advertising, convinced that only he understood how to promote media, a completely —completely— different beast from tradition consumer products. John wanted Ogilvy. They were the classy choice, and I had to admit it would make us feel, well, bigger. Better? Not so sure.
John won; he was the big boss, and Bob wasn’t going to fight him on this one yet. I became the MTV point person, but that was only a little good, because we had a corporate infrastructure above us that thought they should control the communications of the networks. From the first day it was a complete struggle.
We get to the first meeting, and the account team wants to convince us (me) that they deserve the account. They wheel in their resident hipster copywriter, wearing his green and yellow satin tour jacket. He says something about Bruce Springsteen. I point out that Bruce made the decision to rock not to write ads. This relationship was not going to end well.
Our first big fight was over the logo. Big agencies, especially O&M, wanted to control everything about the marketing of a product, which often included actually creating and naming a product. That was not going to happen with us. We’d battled for months about the name (reaching the no-one’s-happy compromise of MTV: Music Television) and I’d already been working on the logo with my childhood friend Frank Olinsky and his studio Manhattan Design for almost a year.
So an Ogilvy meeting happens where I tell them about the logo and why it’s awesome (this is after weeks of disagreement with our company suits who succeeded in killing the thing once before we swept it out of the fire). They all stare at us silently while the senior account guy pulls out a xeroxed “Ogilvy’s Rules for a Great Logo.” Checking off the points one by one I proudly point out that we’ve broken eight of the 11 rules. Perfect for rock’n’roll network!
After that the ads they did for us generally sucked. It was bad enough they kept trying to make logo look “good,” but they said nothing and lacked everything. No snap, crackle, or particularly, pop.
When it came time to do a TV ad, they came up with some thing with fancy computer generated purple grids that was supposed to be cool. I didn’t really know what a “national” commercial as supposed to be (I’d only produced local radio station spots for Dale) and everyone else seemed to think it was OK, so I went along.
When it came time to make the spot I was in the production company’s office (what was a production company anyhow? That’s how green we were) in the Hollywood Hills and I hear the producer say to the agency, “What do you want me to do with this logo?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“We don’t do comic book stuff here. What do you expect us to do with this piece of shit logo?!”
You can imagine the screaming match that ensued, enough to make a wrestler blush. We came to an impasse, they made their junky (expensive) commercial, and somehow I became fast friends with the producer Sherry McKenna (now, the co-founder of Oddworld).
The commercial ran, no one noticed, we fired the famous Ogilvy and & Mather, and the company reluctantly agreed with Bob and me that we engage Dale and LPG/Pon.
Before “I Want My MTV!” Part 2
MTV had been on the air for six months and we’d fired the storied Ogilvy & Mather and hired Dale Pon’s LPG/Pon (a joint venture with George Lois) at my insistence. Now they were presenting their first trade campaign for advertisers and cable operators and my first big decision was being called into question.
America is fast becoming a land of Cable Brats!
“It’s audacious! Outrageous! Just like you guys.” George Lois was a big talker, a big seller, and a bit of a smart ass, loudmouth. He was also smart. Even though I knew he designed the “cable brats” thing, but my brilliant mentor Dale, who’d never steered me wrong creatively or strategically, was behind the whole thing. His ex-girlfriend, and now one of my best friends, Nancy Podbielniak, had written the copy. Besides, I agreed with Dale that generally trade advertising was a waste of time and bigger waste of money. Consumers were where it’s at, and weren’t all the tradesmen we were hopping to reach consumers too? If we had a knockout punch of consumer advertising our job would be done. I knew he was keeping his powder dry for the big show.
America is fast becoming a land of Cable Brats!
There’s an incorrigible new generation out there.
They grew up with music.
They grew up with television. So we put ‘em both together — for the Cable Brats, and they’re taking over America!
They’re men and women in the 18 to 34 age range advertisers want most — plus the increasingly important 12 to 17 segement.
The Cable Brats buy all the high volume, high ticket, high tech, high profit products of modern America.
They’re strong-willed, cunning, crazily impulsive — an advertiser’s peerless audience.
They look and listen and they want their MTV.
And they buy, buy, buy.
Rock’n’Roll wasn’t enough for them — now they want their MTV. (The exploding 24-hour Video Music Cable Network (and it’s Stereo!)
Tagged: Dale Pon, George Lois, IWMM, LPG/Pon, MTVposts, WASEC, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, advertising, print,.
George was certainly right. It was audacious, and it was a touch outrageous. Somehow, the tone wasn’t quite right, but after the crap Ogilvy had done for us, it was way better.
Besides, hidden in there was the sand grain that was going to lead us to our pearl.
A little known fact about MTV Networks (originally called Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, a second little known fact) was that its original strategy called for the eventual launch of ten networks. They thought about games and sports, in addition to music, movies, and kids; their fourth one was to be shopping. As the company’s creative director, my team went to work in the Spring of 1982.
Before Home Shopping Network there was to be ShopAmerica, the world’s first all shoppping TV channel. After all, the half owner of the company was American Express; that’s why they invested in cable television, after all.
There are a lot of network development levels that are too boring to go into (and the minute HSN launched it was clear how our strategy would have failed), but since I’ve always loved working on logos and branding I hung onto our attempts for ShopAmerica. George Lois and my mentor, Dale Pon, art directed for their agency LPG/Pon.0 comments Tagged: MTV Networks, Shopamerica, WASEC, Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, branding, logo, Dale Pon, George Lois,.
T-shirt sketches & designs by Frank Olinsky, 1978
I got a call in 1977 from trumpeter, composer, Carla Bley major domo Mike Mantler, asking whether I’d be interested in going on the road for the first tour of The Carla Bley Band as sound man and back-up tour manager. Mike single handedly ran the whole shebang, but one man could only do so much. Since he’d be playing in the band, someone needed to do the rest during the shows. I’d known Carla and Mike for much of the decade and we’d already worked well together at their non-profit New Music Distribution Service. Carla was an clearly an extraordinary composer (her “Ida Lupino” continues to be a favorite of mine in almost every interpretation), an irrepressible personality, and probably a great bandleader. Besides, they were offering me the most money I’d ever made.
I’d always wanted a road gig, but the closest I’d ever gotten was turning down the Blue Öyster Cult (mine was never really a rock’n’roll personality), so I had a hoot. Over a few tours I got to work daily with musicians as great and diverse as Roswell Rudd, Terry Adams, Don Preston, Blue Gene Tyranny, Philip Wilson, George Lewis, and Gary Windo. Never too crazy, never too normal, it was an unbeatable experience to tour North America before I quick-turned into media full time.
Prepping for our first European Tour I commissioned a tour T-shirt from my high school friend, designer Mark Larson. As they were coming off the press and we were heading up to Woodstock for rehearsal, my freelance radio boss Dale Pon called and demanded I move with him to Los Angeles to re-launch a radio station. Over a three hour period he cajoled and screamed and persuaded me to change the rest of my life. I hated to miss the shows, and Mike and Carla were none too happy with me, but the future beckoned.
T-shirt sketches & designs by Frank Olinsky, 1978
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