2016 MTV V.M.A.s: How the Event Used Major Brands to Celebrate Artistry

Pepsi, Guess, and other brands promoted new initiatives before, during, and after the show.

By Carla Hay September 1, 2016, 6:45 AM EDT

The stage at Madison Square Garden had the event’s color themes of black, white, and blue.

Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV

The MTV Video Music Awards might not be as outrageous as they once were, but for this year's show on August 28, the network and its producers still sought to wow both live and at-home audiences with new elements and stunts. While reviews for this year’s show were mixed-to-negative, experiential marketing efforts from MTV and its sponsors before, during, and after the show implemented daring concepts.

One effort began days before the show when MTV partnered with Branding By Air and Remarkable Media to set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s largest flying digital video screen on August 24. Using a 250-foot-wide jumbo banner that launched at Hotel Hugo and was flown across the Hudson River, the stunt announced that Ariana Grande would be performing at the show.

Show sponsor Pepsi used a pre-show concert to debut for its Soundrop promotion—a partnership with MTV, Shazam, and iHeartMedia that spotlights new and emerging artists. Three of them performed at the V.M.A. pre-show on a stage directly outside Madison Square Garden. Viacom Velocity, Viacom and MTV's integrated marketing and internal creative agency, will create and help distribute ongoing content for Soundrop.

“The music industry has changed dramatically, making it even more difficult for artists to cut through the clutter,” said PepsiCo head of music Emma Quigley. “We’ve created an amplification platform that will provide greater visibility for the artists, allow them to share the stories that helped shape them, and, ultimately, connect fans to the artists in a more meaningful way.”

At the show itself—taking place at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the show began in 1984—the 18,200-seat venue’s stage and arrivals area were designed in color themes of black, white, and blue. Executive producers of the award ceremony were Den of Thieves co-founder Jesse Ignjatovic, independent producer Lee Lodge, and MTV Networks executives Garrett English, Erik Flannigan, Sandy Alouete, and Jen Jones.  

Supporting the show's theme of celebrating unique, creative expressions of artists, some singers were paired with visual artists to create a custom video on MTV’s online outlets that announced their performances in the days leading up to the ceremony. Britney Spears’ video was created by Radical Friend, while Nick Jonas made his announcement with a video from Zolloc. At a Facebook Live event in July, MTV unveiled the Video of the Year nominees with a panoramic mural at the First Street Green Art Park in New York's East Village. In addition, MTV created a promotional campaign in which V.M.A performers added their art to an online “blank canvas,” with each artist selecting a signature message and Pantone color for a 60-second video shown on MTV’s online outlets.

Another first for the V.MA.s: a partnership with Glaad for a fund-raiser, with a concert held at Terminal 5 on August 26. Flo Rida, Cash Cash, and Nathan Sykes performed at the Time Warner-sponsored show, which raised money for Glaad and had voter registration for attendees through MTV’s “Elect This” campaign.

“One of the challenges in New York is finding the right venue for our concert activations with our partners,” said Viacom senior vice president of special events Stephen Kipp. “We were lucky enough to make a home for the pre-V.M.A. events at Terminal 5. Once deciding that, we had the creative challenge of how to make the two concert events feel distinctive with everything from the stage look to the overall environment.”

Unofficial after-parties included Republic Records at Vandal; Epic Records at Marquee; Rihanna at Up & Down; and a private soiree with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and others at Pasquale Jones.

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