Exclusive: Behind MTV’s 2014 Movie Awards Partnership with Tumblr and Taco Bell

By Adam Flomenbaum 


When it came time to carry out the first iteration of a partnership with Tumblr to provide a custom advertising solution for Taco Bell during the 2014 Movie Awards, MTV thought outside the bun.

The Giffie Awards – in which MTV artists created real-time GIFs of events that transpired during the Movie Awards – were “presented by Taco Bell” and posted to MTV’s Tumblr throughout the evening. In addition to the Giffies, MTV gathered social influencers at Tumblr’s New York headquarters to produce additional content.

In just over two hours, MTV posted to its account a total of 87 times, and the results of the campaign, shared exclusively with Lost Remote, proved that it was a resounding success.

The posts generated over 250,000 notes, and reblogs constituted a high percentage of these notes. According to Tumblr, these numbers made the initiative one of the most engaging promoted campaigns in the social network’s history.

The big results come on the heels of a recent Pulsar study, which concluded that the conversation surrounding TV is larger and lasts longer on Tumblr versus Twitter. The study also suggested that on Tumblr, fans immerse themselves in their show’s universe, create their own narratives, and advocate for the show.

Advertisers have been slow to embrace paid partnerships with Tumblr, but the findings of the Pulsar study are things that MTV and its Vice President of Content Marketing and Fan Engagement, Tom Fishman, have anticipated – and taken advantage of – for a long time.

Lost Remote spoke with Fishman about the Tumblr and Taco Bell partnerships, and Fishman said the campaign was not only a success numerically, but also creatively. “The Giffies allowed MTV to speak to its audience in a creative context that’s really authentic to Tumblr, really credible with the Tumblr community, and bringing Taco Bell along for the ride allowed for some great brand rub and creative blends,” he said.

Tumblr’s role in the partnership was not just limited to the main Dashboard (which is where most of the engagement happens) but also in some of their other units, including the Radar Dashboard, the Blog Discovery section, and the Trending Blog placement (content featured as ‘What’s Hot on Tumblr’).

MTV was able to integrate Taco Bell – and their objectives – into the campaign in an authentic-feeling manner. One example was via the short summary each brand is allowed in the Blog Discovery unit. MTV’s summary read: “MTV on Tumblr…basically the Waffle Taco of the internet,” which prioritized Taco Bell’s new offering on their breakfast menu.

The art of native advertising boils down to maintaining authenticity while still delivering on a brand’s objectives. “It’s not going to work if the Giffies are for categories or for things that feel obvert or bludgeon-you-over-the-head advertising,” Fishman said. “The point of this is to be subtle – to be deeply integrated.”

MTV met with Taco Bell before the show to understand what the fast-food chain was trying to accomplish, its guardrails, and what they were seeking creatively from the partnership. Still, when it came time to execute in real-time, Taco Bell was sophisticated enough to know that MTV needed a healthy amount of creative liberty in order to produce authentic content that could be amplified across its own social channels. “The cool thing” and “the challenging thing” about finding this balance, according to Fishman, “is that it’s hard. It’s not necessarily a turnkey solution.”

In late March, Viacom and Tumblr announced an exclusive partnership to deliver co-branded content campaigns for advertisers during the 2014 upfront season. The Taco Bell campaign for the Movie Awards was just the first demonstration of this partnership and of Viacom’s ’Echo Social Media Network,’ in which Viacom will continue to look to leverage its social and digital assets on behalf of advertisers.

The success of the Movie Awards campaign will likely result in Tumblr being able to secure a larger share of social TV advertising spend and Viacom being able to land more brand partners.

“Keep your eyes on us in the content marketing game,” Fishman said toward the end of our conversation. “When you look at what we’ve done for a lot of different clients now over the last couple of years – the type of truly cross-promotion that we bring, and we’re not just talking social, digital, mobile – we’re integrating these campaigns in a 360 way with our marketers.” He stressed Echo in specific. “I think you’ll continue to see some really game-changing stuff with Echo; some campaigns that are really not executable outside of a company like MTV. Maybe I’m a little biased.”