For 15 years, MTV has been the savant of what is cool in music, trends and fashion. While the main thrust of the network’s marketing and promotional attention is directed toward its core 18 to 24 demographic, MTV appeals equally, and perhaps even more so, to the younger-skewed 12 to 17 audience-those who aspire to have the lifestyles and attitudes of the older set.
Though not nearly as outrageous or outlandish as it once was, MTV is still looked to as a mirror of the younger generation. Its audience, in return, looks to MTV as a depository where its collective voice can be heard, understood and influential. ‘We’re effective because we’re the only ones out there that talk to them in their language,’ says David Cohn, vice president, consumer marketing at MTV.
MTV’s target audience has grown up under the shadow of more advertising images and media exposure than any other generation in history. The result, Cohn believes, is that young people, barraged by a daily dose of media clutter, have been forced to become better, if not, more cynical, consumers. ‘They just want to know the facts at this point,’ says Cohn, ‘and they’ll turn off blatant hype. With a product like MTV, we have a bit of an easier job. They trust us, they know us, and more than anything, the product delivers once they get to it.’
Cohn feels that this cynicism d’es not breed apathy. Instead, the enthusiasm for such MTV campaigns as the voter registration awareness effort ‘Choose or Lose’ is evidence, Cohn believes, that young people want to become involved in socially positive ways.
‘MTV is both a reflection of our audience and something for the audience,’ he says.
While Cohn concedes that the product MTV markets has changed, how they market it hasn’t. The challenge is to develop marketing and promotions that are as visually creative and engaging as the channel is.
Cohn says that the network constantly strives to evolve and break new ground, changing for the sake of change itself. When it first launched, MTV gained notoriety for developing out-of-the-ordinary image-based promotions and creative contests, such as giving away an island or having dinner with Michael Jackson. It continues today with such contests as ‘Take the Year Off,’ in which MTV paid a lucky winner $100,000 to stay home. Now, similar brand-building campaigns have been adopted as standard advertising techniques.
MTV believes that it must stay on the cutting edge in terms of technology, trends and production techniques because its audience demands it. One of the areas it has aggressively moved into is new media. Unlike many other companies, says Cohn, MTV looks at its interactive presence less as a promotional vehicle, and more as another programming entity that has its own compelling content. MTV Online features an on-line game show, ‘Crank;’ an on-line version of its dating game, ‘Singled Out;’ as well as chat sessions with MTV hosts and music stars. ‘[Young adults] expect a lot from the MTV brand name. It’s not supposed to be just the computer version of what you would see and enjoy more on television.’
Since day one, MTV has developed a give-and-take relationship with its viewers, and that’s something that it strives to embody in its marketing efforts as well. ‘We want to be where they are,’ says Cohn, ‘with a message that means something to them and that gets them to watch more MTV, but really, just makes us a part of their lives.’