MTV has become too exclusive. At least, that's what cable rival Fuse thinks. So the fledgling music network is taking a deliberately downmarket approach in its first national ad effort, which breaks today from Amalgamated.
The result is an eight-spot spoof of MTV's Beach House series, in which tanned and toned youths gallivant in a beautifully decorated seaside abode. The house in Fuse's ads is a rundown motel in Neptune, N.J., with a cracked pool that contains a sludgy, knee-deep puddle.
The strategy is to position Fuse as a music destination for the cool "outsider" who respects authenticity, said Doug Cameron, planner at Amalgamated in New York, which won the business in June. "There's a feeling [among young people] that with their programming, especially Beach House, that MTV was selling out," he said, adding that Fuse emphasizes its competitor's former equity—music videos—over other programming.
"They can focus on us all they want," said an MTV rep. "We are going to continue to focus on the audience."
In one Fuse spot, shabbily attired guests stand in line outside a portable toilet. One man asks the guy in front how long he has been waiting. The fellow shrugs, knocks on the door and then opens it to reveal the stall has been empty, sending those behind him into fits of apoplexy.
Another commercial shows three not-so-buff but enthusiastic male participants in a wet-T-shirt contest.
Amalgamated took the concept of using "real people" in ads beyond the casting agents, photographing hundreds of people of all genders, shapes, sizes and colors strolling along the boardwalk of Atlantic City, N.J. They were asked to sign releases for possible participation in the Fuse campaign, and then Amalgam- ated chose those who were most "ordinary" in appearance.
"We're not about a beach house, which is why we went with this silly beach-house concept," noted Fuse president Marc Juris.
Despite targeting MTV, Fuse competes most in terms of content with MTV2. Boone/Oakley in Charlotte, N.C., created the most recent ads for that channel, which feature a screaming doll, the tagline "It's not MTV, it's MTV2," and the line, "It's where the music's at."
"That music videos are on MTV2 shows you where MTV's music priorities are," said Amalgamated creative director Jason Gaboriau.
The campaign runs through Labor Day on spot cable, mostly on Fuse's Cablevision siblings such as IFC, We and AMC. (Cablevision's MuchMusic USA channel became Fuse on May 19.)
Fuse ranks a distant third behind MTV and MTV2 in the number of U.S. households it reaches, with just more than 30 million, according to Nielsen Media Research. By contrast, MTV is in approximately 85 million households, while MTV2 reaches nearly 50 million.
Juris would not disclose the media spend. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, MTV spent $10 million on media in 2002, while Fuse and MTV2 spent less than $1 million. J.L. Media in Union, N.J., handles media for Fuse.
Print ads are still in production. Outdoor work, including a giant Times Square billboard visible from MTV's offices, went up in New York last week. Those ads also center on the beach-house concept and are designed to look cheap.
Amalgamated, which has three full-time staffers, launched in June. Fuse is its sole client.