Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Ultimate mix?

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Monday July 28, 2003

Motorola hopes that a 45m deal with MTV will help it to become the world's number one mobile phone maker. Kate Bulkley explains

Music channel MTV and electronics giant Motorola have agreed a deal whose potential global impact has caught the attention of their peers.

screenshot of Episode1 of MTV Mash

From Episode 1 of MTV Mash

And that attention isn't just measured by the massive $75m (45m) promised by Motorola's mobile-phone division over the life of the three-year agreement with MTV, which began with the inaugural broadcast of a new show in the UK last week - MTV Mash. Of course, the cash is a factor, but this commercial partnership is arguably the most complex and potentially the trendiest multi-platform global sponsorship marriage yet to hit the market.

"Yes, it's big and it's a very good deal," says Simon George, joint managing director of the UK's leading broadcast sponsorship company Drum PhD, which arranged a similar (but smaller) venture between Big Brother and mobile-network operator O<->2, formerly known as BT Cellnet. "The MTV/Motorola deal will definitely get people talking." Its origins can be traced to last year when Motorola moved out of straight advertising on MTV into sponsoring a dance show called Isle of MTV. The mobile-phone maker was tired of being the number two brand globally, behind the likes of Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung in many markets, and felt it needed to shift its image firmly towards the 12-24-year-olds, who are largely responsible for buying its product. The sponsorship link seemed to work because dance music was so hot, and Motorola even signed up three dance DJs as spokesmen.

screenshot of Episode1 of MTV Mash

From Episode 1 of MTV Mash

But then tastes changed in the fickle world of cutting-edge music and the "next big thing" - as all MTV viewers and clubbers were learning - was music mashing. About 18 months ago music mashing took off in Europe as club DJs began mixing one whole song on top of another. But while DJs mash two CDs in the clubs, MTV can mash two videos on screen, like the worldwide hit by American R&B singer Pink, Get The Party Started, and a track by Australian rock band the Vines, Get Free, which featured in the first MTV Mash programme.

It may sound like a musical recipe for dissonance, but when mixed properly it's hot, and the concept of a 30-minute weekly show called MTV Mash was born. Motorola Europe, eager to "contemporise" its relationship with MTV, became its sponsor at about the same time that Motorola Inc. adopted a global brief to position its brand next to cool stuff attractive to young people, and so the $75m deal was born. Not only is this a big deal for MTV, but the alliance is also the biggest international marketing collaboration for Motorola as well.

MTV Mash was created not just as a TV show, but as a global, multi-platform relationship embracing the web, events, TV programming and exclusive mobile content, including Motorola embedding MTV Mash content on to some of its next generation of handsets, which are out this September. The show began airing across Europe last week.

"We have 102 advertising windows around the world and you can buy just Germany or just Europe or Asia and Germany or whatever you want, but where we are seeing traction is in a growing number of advertisers who want to take the whole world," says president of MTV Networks International, Bill Roedy. "Now it won't be everyone [who signs a global deal] and still the largest part of our ad pie is local, but the Motorola deal is symbolic."

screenshot of Episode1 of MTV Mash

From Episode 1 of MTV Mash

Global sponsorship deals are typically restricted to huge brands that have worldwide appeal or a corporate message to deliver. Banks, airlines, financial services, some car manufacturers and a few mass consumer brands such as Coca-Cola, Levi's and McDonalds are the usual suspects.

The TV players in this game are even smaller in number because so few have a global footprint - CNN, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channels, Discovery and, of course, MTV.

Despite the low number of potential customers, MTV's parent company Viacom is pushing globalisation and multi-platforms in an even more fundamental way. Earlier this month it set up an international advertising sales group to offer clients a complete marketing package to cover broadcasting, the web, retail (through Blockbuster Video stores) and billboard advertising.

The attraction of various multi-platform tie-ins - particularly those between a TV show and the internet - has also been seen by an MTV rival. Turner Broadcasting System International, the TV channels part of AOL Time Warner, which produces CNN and Cartoon Network, says that 80% of its ad revenue comes from joint deals involving both TV and the web.

"Competition in the ad market means that media buyers have to do something more than just selling ad time," says Kevin Razvi, TBS International's executive vice president of advertising sales for news. For a mobile phone brand such as Motorola, that little bit extra means content - something a broadcaster like MTV has in abundance.

"Youth is the market in mobile," says Susan Costello, head of innovation at UK brand consultancy Rufus Leonard. "They spend more money and they have the potential to spend more than anyone. All the mobile operators are gagging for content that will get people on their network longer."

So as the mobile market becomes more saturated, the handset makers are also looking to increase their revenues beyond the one-off product sale. "Motorola is using the same tactics as the network operators [with the MTV deal] in terms of getting content and lining up with a youth brand," says Costello.

Motorola says that content is not king for it in this deal. The link-up with MTV is "a marketing tool" to bring awareness of its brand to the youth market. "We want to bring across what the phone can do that is not just in the handset manual," says Nicole Fink, the company's integrated marketing manager in charge of the MTV partnership in Europe. "We were technology-based and an older demographic brand. We want to become a more consumer-led brand, and we see that the youth market is easily adapted to new technology. Youths will more often change their phone as they do their sneakers."

The Motorola and MTV partnership is novel in its comprehensiveness although bits and pieces of the deal have been done by others. AOL Time Warner achieved a similarly large and multi-platformed deal with Unilever last year, but insiders say that "execution" has been more difficult and it could be two to three years before the link is considered successful.

CNN's global deals with companies such as UBS, Rolex, Alfa Romeo and Toyota had similarities, but were much smaller. Disney has licensed some characters for content on T-Mobile phones, while Cartoon Network's attempts to create global deals with characters such as Scooby Doo have fallen foul of the needs of local TV schedulers and brand manager teams who each want different things.

By combining music trends and communication technology the Motorola-MTV venture has perhaps hit one of the few jackpots available. Yet even this deal has its holes. In Asia and Latin America, music mashing has yet to hit the zeitgeist in a big way so MTV Mash becomes MTV Alert in Asia and MTV Alerta in Latin America and the programming is different, but all of them are sponsored by Motorola.

Probably the biggest problem MTV has with its new show is clearing the rights to mix two videos from two separate artists, who are likely to be on different labels as well. But Dave Sibley, vice president and general manager of MTV Europe marketing partnerships, says that he is confident that the labels and the artists will see the commercial benefits of perhaps creating an album of cool mashed tunes. He also sees the deal as a sort of road map for other innovative global partnerships.

"In the past three months brands have been coming to us and talking about setting up a strategic group to create global campaigns," says Sibley. "The problem is they don't yet have real global budgets." But maybe that is only a matter of time.


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