John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: MTV and The Super Bowl

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 


Winner:  MTV

Loser:  The Super Bowl                     




I want to start by saying that from all that I hear, MTV’s new series Skins sounds like another deplorable step down for our culture and yet another blow against civility.


That said, MTV is simply doing what MTV does best –and their viewers want their MTV.


From the beginning, it was obvious that Skins, a dramatized take on teenage life that has been accused of possibly violating child pornography laws, was a show that would offend, alienate adults and make MTV look like a renegade. 


That might be death for other networks but what is MTV but a network that built its reputation on offending, alienating adults and looking like a renegade?   


Its Target Market, the same demographic depicted in the show, expect this behavior –in fact, to the extent that MTV doesn’t offend and look like a renegade, its brand loses credibility in its audience’s eyes.  Think  Elvis Presley shaking his hips a little too much on the Ed Sullivan show.  Think The Doors going even farther just a decade later.


MTV will lose sponsors you say?  Of course they will (Subway and Schick just dropped out).  But assuming this is contained and doesn’t lead to wholesale legal action and other problems, MTV will find other sponsors more in line with the Target Market for this show –and, don’t be surprised, to see the old sponsors come trotting back if the show succeeds and the outrage dies down.


Again, from what I’ve heard this show might indeed be a sad testament to how low we have sunk as a society, but in strict brand terms, MTV has done exactly what it needed to do. 


You simply don’t get a reputation for going too far unless, occasionally, you go too far.  The same rules that apply to an NBC just don’t apply to an MTV.


There’s another element at work here as well: adpublitizing.  Or shall we say, showpublitizing or networkpublitzing (now that’s a mouthful).  Today, in a fractured media landscape, one way to supplement advertising dollars and gain product/service visibility is by creating a controversy that the media will cover.  Usually, this controversy surrounds an advertisement that gets pulled by jittery networks. 


But in this case, MTV has used a show with many objectionable qualities to get an ongoing cycle of press at the series launch of the kind that promoters can usually only dream.  In the process, they’ve cemented their brand image with their audience.  This is basically a repeat of what they did and still do with Jersey Shore where both onscreen and off-screen scandals generate ongoing attention.


Folks, let the adult world (justifiably) lament this next chapter in the history of our teens, but no one can expect MTV to behave any differently. 


Fact is, if history is any guide, today’s scandalous series is tomorrow’s “groundbreaking,” “risk-taking” television.  Smothers Brothers?   



Folks, here we go again and this year I want to get in there a little early:

Super Bowl advertising is a waste of money!

Last week, Anheuser Busch decided to preview their Super Bowl ads (Fed Ex has already decided to continue their absence from the big event).  Both these facts are evidence that companies are finally beginning to understand that Super Bowl advertising is a monumental waste of money.

Super Bowl ad buys make little sense from a practical advertising point of view because they violate the” law of frequency.”  Countless studies have shown that for advertising to work it must be seen by a viewer at least five times with the optimal frequency being ten.  The Super Bowl’s prohibitive advertising spot costs make this frequency unlikely.

Why do otherwise savvy marketers, who for the other 364 days of the year believe in the “law of frequency,” suddenly abandon it?   There are numerous reasons: the glamour factor, the celebrity factor, the showcasing of the “creatives” at advertising agencies and the hope that a company might just hit some kind of elusive jackpot.  But the jackpot never happens. 

Moreover, the hope of many advertisers to create a memorable or witty spot that gets replayed in perpetuity on the Internet and thus earns back the huge Super Bowl advertising expense is misguided.   Check out the YouTube viewer numbers for some of the most famous and beloved ads and you will see that they are anemic seldom exceeding one million over four years.  Super Bowl ads with an interactive component and contests can offer limited help.   

The main hope for Super Bowl advertisers is the concept of adpublitizing.  As I discussed with MTV, adpublitizing is the creation of an advertisement for the specific purpose of creating controversy or buzz –both of which will ensure greater viewer frequency by the use of free media publicity (e.g., talk shows covering the controversy and inevitably naming the company and the product). 

Fact is, a company’s best bet is to make an ad controversial in a way that doesn’t hurt the company image but causes the ad to be banned.  Then the law of frequency kicks in on the publicity side and the internet re-airing side.  But this is an incredibly risky strategy that can easily see a company over-shooting the mark and ending up on the wrong side of publicity.

What about Anheuser Busch’s decision to preview its ads before the game?  I believe that the beer company is probably using an approach that intends to increase frequency by way of adpublitizing.  But the company is also showing that Super Bowl advertising isn’t really about the advertising, in Anheuser Busch’s case it might very well be about throwing a kind of appreciation “party” for their distributors who, after all, are the folks that close the sales week after week by getting the product to the shelves.

Over all, a Super Bowl ad buy is simply a waste of money.  Thus, it is no mistake that companies like Federal Express and General Motors have begun to actively find much more cost-effective alternatives to the big game.

Five Fast Facts Why Super Bowl Advertising is a Waste of Money:

1) The most famous ad in Super Bowl history —Apple’s “1984” ad directed by Ridley Scott of Gladiator fame— became an icon and introduced so-called “event marketing”… But for Apple, it spelled the beginning of the end in its personal computer war with IBM and Windows.  In fact, in the year following the big Super Bowl ad, Apple sold fewer computers than ever.

2) Not everybody watches the Super Bowl.  The same money spent on Super Bowl ads, used instead to reach those watching other television programs on at the same time, could land almost double the viewers in the 18-49 demographic. 

3)  Why does the hype continue?  Because Super Bowl advertising is great publicity for advertising agencies.  (Unfortunately, it’s a poor business decision for their clients).

4) A direct marketing campaign that invested $3 million in advertising and production costs (the rough price tag of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial) would generate a much higher multiple of sales.
5)  The cost for one Super Bowl ad in 2010 (somewhere between 2.4 and 2.7 million for a 30-second spot) could buy up to 600 30-second ads in the NY market or 800 30-second ads in LA.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 

Let’s salute Jack LaLanne who died this past week!  To learn a lot more about brand consistency read The New York Times obituary here.

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