At MTV’s Video Music Awards, Advertisers Work to Strike Right Chord

·4-min read

When advertisers take these days to MTV’s long-running “Video Music Awards,” they are hoping viewers will be as interested in what interrupts the action as they are in the trophy-winners themselves.

Many of the show’s most intriguing commercials will seek to be as eye-popping as the program’s musical segments and celebrity appearances. Indeed, ad sales executives at Paramount Global, MTV’s corporate parent., say this year’s awards effort contains more in-program appearances by the advertisers’ wares than in any other years of the show, which debuted in 1984. Sponsors are “converting normal commercial time to branded content,” says Dario Spina, the chief marketing officer of Velocity, a Paramount unit that works to create specialized ad executions in the company’s content.

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In years past, getting a car or a can of soda to show up in traditional fashion was enough. In 2003, for example, Motorola and Cingular Wireless sponsored a trivia contest that appeared during ad breaks, and in 2004, MTV displayed a statue of its signature “Moon Man” made from car parts in a nod to ad support from General Motors’ Saturn.

Not everyone can get access to such stuff. Advertisers who wish to create such concepts are required to buy a larger package of inventory, some of which may show up in other programs or at other points in the year, according to Karen Phillips, executive vice president of convergent sales for Paramount Global. She declined to discuss pricing, but in 2005, a VMA sponsorship program could cost between $4 million and $7 million, and was available only to advertisers that committed to spending about $10 million with MTV during the coming TV season. One might presume those figures have increased over the years.

Even a single ad on MTV’s VMAs might be considered pricey. A 30-second spot in last year’s broadcast cost around $191,000, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending.

That comes even as the flagship broadcast of the awards show has been losing viewers. MTV’s 2021 VMAs broadcast averaged 900,000 viewers for the live run of the show —  down 32% from 1.32 million in 2020 (Paramount countered last year that total minutes of the program consumed across various distribution methods had increased). The VMAs are  broadcast across multiple Paramount Global holdings, including VH1, The CW, Comedy Central, Nick At Night, Pop, TV Land, MTV2, Logo, Paramount Network, BET, BET Her and CMT.

In 2022, the company and advertisers have raised the stakes. Just showing up on screen won’t do the trick. Many of the new executions will prod viewers to visit social media or will rely more heavily on some of the musicians and celebrities taking part in the proceedings. Paramount staffers play a big role in trying to tie the advertising efforts more closely to the show and its particiapants.

Doritos, made by PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, will use the VMA’s to launch a “Triangle Tracker,” or a lens on Snapchat that creates virtual chips whenever users point their smartphones at triangles. The virtual-reality shapes can then be used to win prizes. Doritos is also sponsoring an “extended play stage” that features four up-and-coming musicians giving short-form performances.

Mars Wrigley’s Extra gum will sponsor the show’s Best New Artist award. Ads that appear in and around the program feature Ava Max talking about stressful life changes that can happen as a result of winning the honor and ask viewers to keep voting until the trophy is presented.  Burger King will run a series of custom commercials that seek to redefine the concept of “royalty,” with VMA nominee Latto touting the attributes of individuality over money or heritage

Instacart, a first-time sponsor of the event, will sponsor Lizzo’s VMA performance. She will be featured in a new Instacart ad campaign that aims to highlight how the company helps the shopping experience. The company’s commercial will appear right after her turn on the show, says Laura Jones, InstaCart’s chief marketing officer. “We’re ushering in a new era of shopping inspiration by celebrating the promise that with Instacart, everyday moments can turn into new worlds of possibility,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Toyota aims to add more spectacle to the proceedings. The giant automaker will nod to its new Corolla Cross, and team up with Kane Brown, who will deliver his first performance at the VMAs. Toyota also aims to grab attention with a series of virtual-reality displays that will show up during the program and after its commercial runs on air.

“All of our partners come to us for more than just media,” says Phillips.

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