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I Want My MTV!
At first, nobody wanted their MTV.
Four decades ago this month, when the nation’s first music TV station launched, it was a profound failure. Advertisers didn’t see an audience, and the music industry saw it as a threat to vinyl and cassette sales and balked at the increased cost of creating music videos.
But the main factor holding MTV back? It wasn’t available in most households.
MTV launched on just a single cable network in New Jersey in 1981. It wasn’t available in most major markets, thanks in part to conservative cable companies who didn’t want to take a risk upsetting traditional viewers by targeting rock-n-roll-loving teenagers.
On the brink of muting the channel forever, MTV execs brought in legendary ad man George Lois to create a plan to drum up awareness.
With that, the iconic “I Want my MTV!” campaign was born.
Video (Spot) Saved the Music Network
The ads featured superstars Mick Jagger, Pete Townsend and Pat Benatar screaming into the camera “I Want my MTV!”
The commercials gave the network immediate credibility by featuring some of the most popular musical acts of the time (artists soon started volunteering to be in future spots).
But at a more fundamental level, Lois and company’s ad got something else right. It recognized its real customer – the cable companies.
Just as importantly, it created a campaign that spoke to the cable company’s customer with a clear call to action. Before Mick Jagger’s brash line, there’s a voiceover that says “If you don’t get MTV where you live, call your cable operator and say…”
The campaign (which was actually based on a cereal slogan from the 1950s) was a huge success. Within four months, MTV was in 80% of households and was on its way to redefining the TV and music industries with music videos – and later reality programming.