3 Brand Advertisers Who Scored Big During the MTV Video Music Awards

For many marketers, the MTV Video Music Awards are the Super Bowl for Generations Y and Z. To refresh your memory, this is where Britney and Madonna shared their first French kiss, Kanye stormed the stage to upstage Taylor Swift and where former Disney star Miley twerked while holding a foam finger.

The show attracts over ten million viewers every year. If an advertiser is interested in the 12-24 audience, “The VMAs have got to be at the top of your list,” Jon Swallen, the director of research at TNS said.

But competition and cost are fierce. Last year, a 30-second ad was rumored to be in the $650,000- $700,000 range.Custom packages can come at a premium—upward of $5 million for multiple spots. So how do you compete? Here are three brands that leveraged their spots to win big at the awards.


Hijacking with a cultural megaphone

In 2014, the Truth campaign hijacked the VMAs. Literally.As a Shorty Award finalist, the creators had this to say about their campaign: “To kick off our movement (be the generation that ends smoking) we hijacked the biggest, loudest, most controversial party for teens—the MTV Video Music Awards. While artists like Lady Gaga were accepting awards, we ran a series of spots that put their smoking photos on blast.”

The message? Every time smoking photos get posted on the Internet, Big Tobacco gets free marketing.

The Truth campaign complimented its message with strong social activation, includingYouTube. Within the first 24 hours, Truth had over 1.2 million views and notable shout outs from rapper Wiz Khalifa and pop star Shawn Mendes.

Why was this successful? Truth borrowed the brand megaphone of the VMAs and used it for its own purposes. “Before we began our campaign, we had 27% awareness among our15-21 year-old audience. After the VMAs, we hit 60% awareness,” the ad’s producers said.

“Hijacking your competitor’s brand in a fun and playful way is a shrewd and clever tacticto ensure your brand gets visibility,” said Paul Calento, founder of TriVu Media, the largest buyer of YouTube advertising on behalf of clients and agencies.

How can you take this one step further?

For YouTube, Calento says the Truth campaign should have extended to conquesting on YouTube. For example, advertisers can target their competitors. By showing up on the right rail of a tobacco company’s page on YouTube, they’re ensuring they are in the conversation at the time a consumer is checking out that brand.


Moving from share of voice to share of conversation: Pepsi

To capitalize on real time moments, a lot of work goes into pre-show prep. Pepsi–Cola partnered with Usher to promote the social media hashag #UsherNOW via Twitter Amplify. After Usher’s performance, a TV spot directed viewers to a site where they could download a song off the “Yeah” singer’s yet-to-be-published album.

Scott Cullather Video Music Awards Tweet

The campaign generated thousands of mentions, social exchanges and music downloads.

“We do a lot of work measuring the value of real-time, contextually relevant moments,” said Adam Harter, vice president for partnership engagement of the Pepsi-Cola North American Beverages division of PepsiCo. “We believe that our creative is more relevant and effective when it’s delivered that way,” he said.

Why was this successful? Pepsi scored by allowing viewers to engage with its brand celebrity and gain access to unique content. Being first to hear something new is important for social proof, which, in turn, motivates Generation X and Y viewers to share through their social networks.


How can we take it one step further?

Some real-time moments are impossible to predict—like Miley Cyrus twerking while holding a foam finger. Advertisers have to be prepared with their respective war rooms. One way to be ready is to buy new videos as they get loaded to YouTube, in real-time. “New content is being added onto YouTube every second,” said TriVu’s Paul Calento. “A good partner will ensure your brand is placed appropriately into new, viral content at the right time—and this is key—in a brand safe way.” Taking advantage of Internet memes on Twitter have the same effect.

Millennials are going to social channels like Twitter and YouTube to find the latest videos and memes, so it’s important that your brand is in front of the audience during and directly after the award show.


Beauty, Tresemmé and the astronaut

Unilever’s Tresemmé took advantage of the focus on glamour during the Video Music Awards by promoting tweets of celebrities’ looks and use of the company’s products.

Cover Girl promoted a tweet sent by singer Becky G., whose look it apparently co-created. She posted a full body shot of her outfit and beauty style, and included hashtags #IAmACoverGirl and #VMA.

Becky G. - CoverGirl Promoted Tweet

Why was it successful? The tweet garnered more than 4,000 re-tweets and 11,000 favorites. Tresemmé tweeted fashion-forward hairstyles during the award show. Viewers are watching the show as they monitor their social feeds. Tresemmé leveraged this by showcasing images of good beauty examples, all with the hashtag #VMAs.

How to take it one step further? Try targeting based on URL instead of a channel. “Last year, we had several beauty brands who took advantage of this trend,” TriVu’s Calento said.

Why is this important? If you’re buying based on keywords, cookies or channel, you might miss new, relevant and targeted content.

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About the Author

Anita Newton

Anita Newton is the VP of corporate marketing at Adknowledge. She led marketing at P&G, Sprint and AMC Theatres, as well startups including Zave Networks (acquired by Google). Anita continues her entrepreneurial work by advising startups like Trellie and Mighty Green Solutions. She is based at Adknowledge's Kansas City headquarters.

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