MTV Applies Web Lessons to ‘Yo Momma’ Campaign

SAN FRANCISCO MTV is applying lessons learned from past marketing efforts about the power of online communities to the new marketing strategy for its show Yo Momma. Using young people’s natural affinity for trash talking—and their equally strong craving for Internet fame—the network is seeking to forge a bond with viewers that promotes the show and stays alive long after the TV program is over.

Yo Momma, the third season of which launched in June, is a reality contest that pits jokesters around the country who trash talk each other to comic effect. Marketing for the show revolves around a related online contest, “Let’s Bully,” launched in mid-July, encouraging viewers to compete in their own insult contests by creating characters and personalized jokes that they can send to their friends.

Key to the viral contest is the comically absurd appearance of the characters, which are created by pasting oversized headshots of ones’ friends (or oneself) on the bodies of dancing hip-hop figures, said Gaurav Misra, vp of programming for MTV and VH1.

MTV hired social marketing agency EVB, San Francisco, to craft the personalized elements of the “Let’s Bully” contest. EVB is best know for producing the viral hit “Elf Yourself,” which prompted 11 million people to put headshots of themselves or friends on a dancing Christmas elf. New York agency Toy created the elf campaign for OfficeMax in November 2006.

The MTV campaign is more than a tool to get people to watch the show, said Misra. “We are trying to create a social community around the show’s franchise. We want viewers to live with the brand even when the show is not on air,” and possibly develop into a new online entertainment destination, he said. “We’d love it to be self-sustaining.” Based on the success of this online/offline effort, MTV will also consider whether to move viral initiatives from their role as marketing new TV shows to becoming integral parts of the TV programs themselves, he said. In essence, the network would be blending the marketing and product together.

Executives at Renegade Marketing Group agree that the branding opportunities of the future lie in filtering and repackaging of quality consumer-generated content. “The future leaders of the pack have gotten smart and developed niche sites that slice the pie into tiny, yet dedicated, slivers,” said Drew Neisser, Renegade CEO.

The campaign is built on a number of learnings from MTV research and previous efforts. For example, the network’s research showed that the core audience of 12-24-year-olds like to multi-task and that traffic to the site spikes when the show is on-air, said Misra. As a result, during the half-hour show, four 15-second bursts refer viewers to the online contest. The interactive blend of online and offline content will evolve so that the audience doesn’t know if material originated online or on TV, said Misra. The idea is not just to do a version of the show online, said Daniel Stein, founder and CEO of EVB: “We are giving them a way to humorously diss their friends and get something going. We think of it as advertainment.”

The offline marketing for the TV show does not mention the Web site, but its URL is emblazoned onscreen during the show itself. In MTV’s online marketing, including search and blogs, the message is only about the Web site and not the TV show. “We found that the marketing has to be clear, crisp and simple,” said Misra. “Research from past marketing efforts showed that if we promoted the TV competition and the Web site contest at the same time, people found it confusing.”

Another lesson for MTV has been the Web’s surprising ability to galvanize a group of ambassadors for the brand. “TV is about the quantity of viewers, but it doesn’t trigger fanatical movements,” said Misra. For instance, in an online initiative for MTV’s Real World reality TV show, the network e-mailed 200 people who had contacted the company about the show and told them they could apply to appear on it if they got the most testimonials posted to the show’s Web site. “Within a couple of days we were getting one million uniques a day,” said Misra. Within a month, 25,000 people applied for the show, with no additional marketing. “People want to be famous in any group they can,” he said. As a result, MTV develops contests such as Let’s Bully that not only prompt viewers to share content, but also gives them an outlet in their search for fame, he said.

MTV also realized that people will only spend time with the site and share content if it makes them laugh. “EVB understands the entertainment value. We played around with the way we oversized the pasted-on heads to make people laugh,” said Misra. For viral efforts, “it’s less about polish and realism and more about the end result, which is to get and keep their attention,” Stein added.

Stein and Jason Zada, EVB’s ecd, summarized four viral-marketing standards incorporated into the Let’s Bully online contest:.

First, the experience must be quick and simple. No long introductions or complex Web sites. “Ironically, the less you put on the site, the more compelling it will be and the longer people will stay,” Zada said.

Second, something unexpected has to happen. Viewers can be shocked at how seamless the content is—or how goofy it is, said Stein.

Third, let people personalize the content and make it their own. For instance, in the MTV effort the user picks personalized content for an insulting joke that the character says out loud, giving people a compelling reason to send it to their friends.

Fourth, timing matters. You are asking people to take action and spread your content around. There are times of the year when consumers are naturally sending e-mail and e-cards around and it is easy for them to add your marketing to the mix, said Zada.

In short, with “Yo Momma-Let’s Bully, ” MTV is pushing viral marketing and consumer content to the forefront of its entertainment offerings, and in doing so, the network moves one step closer to the convergence of its brand’s online and offline programming.