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.
It’s hard to call Ralph Ginzburg a mentor of mine. I’m not sure he talked to me more than once, and after a few months on the night shift at his magazine Moneysworth, he had me fired. But a mentor to me he indeed was. Without either of us knowing it, the path I started at Ralph’s would continue for 15 years.
By the time I went to work for his publication in the summer of 1976, Ralph was on his last publication. He was notorious for being convicted and jailed for obscenity relating to his hard cover magazine Eros (though there were some who said he was less obscene than just completely annoying). Moneysworth was to be his last hurrah.
I worked in the production department. Ralph was around often, talking loudly and smartly about everything from design to circulation to advertising. All I had to do was absorb it all. It was the place I saw first hand and up close how design, language, marketing, and promotion worked in the real world.
Ralph showed me (inadvertently) the practical meaning of graphic design (the only things I knew were from reading my girlfriend’s book about Milton Glaser); he talked so much, and so eloquently about Herb Lubalin, I felt like I’d actually worked with him myself. And watching him lay out his trademark full page New York Times ads (like the ones above and below) was an education by itself, about design and typography.
But, it was really in the area of writing, strategy, and direct selling that I got my Ginzburgian education. I won’t belabor the details, but let me tell me you… He’d sit down directly at the typesetting machine (like a big IBM Selectric) and, in real time, type out the kind of ad that’s posted here. He’d intone the sentences out loud as he thought of them. He’d explain why he was writing what, even as he was typing something else entirely. He’d explain his philosophy of selling, direct selling, through the ads, why certain words worked better than others to grab subscriptions, and why he used the extra thick dotted lines around the return coupon.
I made a lifelong friend at Moneysworth. And I learned a lot. It doesn’t get any better even though I was fired. Ralph Ginzburg was a MF, in every way.
Click here to read this ad larger.
Click here to read this ad larger.
Alan Goodman and I met at WKCR-FM, our college radio station, in 1970; we’ve been the greatest of friends and collaborators ever since. We tagged team each other on personal work projects for the next 10 years, and Alan was the person I turned to for guidance the night I made the decision to turn away from record production and move into cable TV. Six months later Alan joined me at MTV Networks.
For three years we helped turn the television world upside down and then we’d had enough. In April 1983 we booked the corporate life and set up Fred/Alan, Inc. (figuring all of our clients would have to be old to get the joke). At the start we thought the company would produce TV shows and movies; in fact the precipitating event that caused us to quit our jobs was a deal to make a music video show for The Playboy Channel.
The First TV Branding Company
But the thing that capapulted Fred/Alan was what turned out to be our innovative network branding work for MTV; no one had really thought about television the same way before. In quick succession we were able to develop and launch all the key MTV networks (Nickelodeon, VH-1: Video Hits One, HA! The TV Comedy Network, Comedy Central); and we virtually invented Nick-at-Nite, the very first oldies network). Most successfully, Fred/Alan was able to take Nickelodeon from worst to first in the ratings within six months and established their brand around the world (Alan and I have separately maintained relationships with Nick ever since).
Fred/Alan morphed into a full service advertising agency, adding media buying, print production, and account management to our creative and strategic capabilities. It was the first agency to brand itself as a demographically specialized company.
In 1989 we moved back into television series, setting up Chauncey Street Productions with our old friend Albie Hecht, and went on to produce hundreds of TV episodes for A&E, AMC, CBS, Comedy Central/HA!, MTV, Nickelodeon, and others.
But after a while we couldn’t take it anymore. Our branding approaches had become commodified as our more motivated former employees, the clients we had trained, and every graphic design firm all became media branding experts. We were turning down lucrative offers to buy the company since we knew it would require years more of servitude.
After many years together, Alan married my sister Elena in early 1992, and in February we announced the closing of Fred/Alan. Albie bought Chauncey Street, and Alan went on to become a successful writer/producer.0 comments Tagged: Fred/Alan, Alan Goodman, advertising, branding, MTV Networks, MTV, Nickelodeon,.