Monday, December 14, 2009

I want my MTV

Here’s another great real-life MAD MEN story. This Don Draper is named George Lois. He was a Madison Avenue star in the late 50s, early 60s. He came up with the Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign in 1960 (for the nine of you who remember it). He also dreamed up with the name “Lean Cuisine”.

When MTV was launched in 1981 it had a tough time getting off the ground. A few cable outlets in smaller markets like Tulsa carried it but none of the big cities. And without LA, New York, Chicago, and maybe Pismo Beach they knew it would never succeed. They pitched MTV to all the major cable operators and no one was remotely interested.

Looking for assistance they turned to George Lois.

He met with the MTV head honchos Bob Pittman and Les Garland. And his proposal was this: a commercial – but not to the cable operators; to the public.

His idea was to take the MTV logo, add loud striking visuals, and end with a voice-over saying, “If you don’t get MTV where you live, pick up the phone, dial your local operator and say…”

(You know the rest.)


And to jazz it up he suggested Mick Jagger do the tagline. Jagger did.

They bought some commercial time on national networks and lots of time on targeted cable outlets.

The response was otherworldly. Within six months “I Want My MTV” was on the cover of Time magazine. And MTV joined every cable outlet in the land.

So in many ways we have George Lois to thank for the music revolution that was MTV and Boy George.


Xavier said...

We also have him to thank for Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, Tila Tequila, and Jersey Shore.

Chuck said...

I know the "Think Small" campaign from Mad Men. One of the fun moments in the first season.

VP81955 said...

We also have him to thank for Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, Tila Tequila, and Jersey Shore.

And, conversely, "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits.

Richard said...

But in a way, we also owe it all to a guy named John Hubley.

euphoria0504 said...

Two things to add. One is that George Lois didn't actually come up with "Think Small"; that was a brilliant adman named Julian Koenig, who became Lois' partner in Papert Koenig Lois. THIS AMERICAN LIFE did a piece about this very misattribution, featuring Koenig's daughter. Here's the URL:

However, George Lois DID come up with a famous campaign in the Sixties for Maypo cereal. The tagline was, of course, "I want my Maypo." Part of the appeal of the MTV campaign was its knowing wink at the Maypo campaign.

Richard said...

Yeah, I should clarify my earlier comment: John Hubley created the original Maypo ads, and some years later, Lois followed up with the celebrity-filled ad that his later MTV spots referenced.

John said...

If you look up Hubley, it's a pretty interesting story -- Ex-Disneyite and, at first, not a very good animation director who finally hit his stride at the end of the 1940s creating Mr. Magoo for UPA. Then, just as he finally discovers his own style with an animated film based on the old Frankie & Johnnie story that was probably going to win the Oscar for Best Short Subject, he gets blacklisted and ordered fired by distributor Columbia Pictures and the film never even gets nominated because Hubley's name is attached.

He'd eventually win the award at the end of the 1950s, but it was a long road back (Google Hubley's name and 'Finian's Rainbow" to see the main project that was scrubbed by the blacklist).

Jack James said...

And don't forget the "I want my MTV" line from the Dire Straits's song.

Mike said...

I know this might sound silly (and may make some self-important people in advertising feel I'm an idiot) but though I often wonder about how certain people involved in the creation of popular culture respond to their own babies effect on the world at large and their own significant role in its creation but their lack of recognition from the world at large (the stereotypical put upon screenwriter, the reality show producer who takes us one step closer to the movie Network being a reality, exactly what torture implements will be used in hell on the people who brought us the Kardashians), I've never given the same thought to ad men*

Like how did the person who created the "Where's the Beef?" campaign feel about Wendy's (or somebody) making money off "Where's the Beef?" beach towels and Clara Peller becoming so famous that 25 years later I remember her name without the need for Google?

* Yes I don't watch Mad Men. Sundays are typically really a struggle for me because I dread returning to work; I don't need the extra depression_

Bill Peschel said...

Mike, if they're like any other people, some are probably embarrassed, some proud, some in between, and some just don't give a f---.

I say this because when I see someone like Leonard Nimoy spend subsequent decades rejecting and embracing "Star Trek," I realized that it's all about the context. (Ditto John Lennon's attitude toward the Beatles and Paulie; he was all over the map depending on his mood, the time of day and his current drug use.)

Megan said...

I remember "Think Small"! Which is actually confusing, as I'm in my twenties and have never seen Mad Men. Hmm, wonder where I came across that?

Anyways, love the story behind "I want my MTV" I had never thought it came from a real request!

Kyle said...

MTV's devolution is one of the saddest things brought about by my generation. On behalf of all Generation Y, I would like to apologize to Generation X. If it weren't for us spawn of the 1980s, with our disposable income and bad taste in music, MTV may never had lost its soul trying to pander to us.

Sorry to be a downer, ya'll. It just shocks me that something as innovative as the "I want my MTV" campaign could turn into The Hills.

Tee Baxter said...

I miss the old MTV as well. I was a huge fan of Headbanger's Ball, although as a black city kid, I wasn't able to freely admit that as a kid. I watched in the privacy of my bedroom and let my inner rocker loose.

I also miss VH1, which I started watching as a I got a little too old for MTV.