September 12, 2008
By Cellphone or TV, Marketers Try to Reach Young With Video Campaigns
By Stuart Elliott
For years, MTV has been bringing together eclectic groups of young adults to live together in loftlike spaces on the series "The Real World." Now, with the backing of a major technology marketer, the network has gathered 16 youthful creative types in a loft in New York for a contest that can be watched on TV or online.Beginning Monday, the Viacom unit MTV and its mtvU channel, which is aimed at college and university students, will join forces with Hewlett-Packard to present "Engine Room," an original series that will follow the 16 contestants, divided into four teams, as they produce digital art using - of course - PCs, work stations, monitors and other products sold by HP.
Episodes of "Engine Room" run five to seven minutes each, and the series is scheduled to last seven weeks. At the end, one team will win prizes that include $400,000 in cash and a chance to program the giant MTV screen in Times Square in New York for a night.
"Engine Room" follows a previous video series that HP sponsored with MTV, called "Meet or Delete." It also comes after a video series for the back-to-school season, "Dorm Storm," presented by Hewlett-Packard in partnership with Broadband Enterprises, an online video producer and distributor.
Those series are indicative of the increasing interest in video campaigns among large marketers, particularly to reach younger consumers who have demonstrated a willingness to watch clips on their computers, cellphones and other mobile devices.
"We don't want it to be advertising; we want it to be real," said David Roman, vice president for worldwide marketing communications at the personal systems group of HP in Cupertino, California.
"We're learning as we go not to do so much talking about what we do but rather let people do things with the product," Roman said. "That's where the 'wow factor' comes from."
Roman estimated that spending by Hewlett-Packard for the "Engine Room" initiative would be in "the tens of millions of dollars," beginning with efforts that began months ago to recruit contestants on a Web site, MTVEngineRoom.com.
Almost 2,000 people from 122 countries submitted more than 20,000 original works of art, he said, to earn a chance to take part in the contest.
The teams of contestants are divided by the regions they come from: Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. They are visited during the competition by guests like the musician Moby, the film director Kevin Smith and the British pop band the Ting Tings.
The digital creations of the teams were judged by a diverse panel that included musicians, filmmakers, museum curators, a physicist, a tattoo artist, critics and Pete Connolly, an art director from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the advertising agency used by Hewlett-Packard.
A film that Connolly created for his resume inspired a series of commercials for HP that features celebrities like Jay-Z, Jerry Seinfeld and Serena Williams. They are all seen from the neck down while demonstrating how they live their lives digitally.
"We take three, four months to create a commercial, and we saw kids creating parodies on YouTube" in a fraction of the time, said Nancy Reyes, an account director on the Hewlett-Packard account at Goodby, Silverstein in San Francisco, part of the Omnicom Group.
"The idea of giving these kids who are creating amazing things with computers a stage, a global stage, to show off their work seemed like a natural fit," she said.
The decision to go back to MTV and mtvU was made based on what was deemed a good result for "Meet or Delete," a dating series that was introduced in 2006. Episodes can still be watched online at MeetOrDelete.com.
Programs like "Meet or Delete" and "Engine Room," which are created for marketers and feature products interwoven into the plots, are becoming more popular among executives at TV networks. Such shows, known on Madison Avenue as branded entertainment, have to walk a fine line between entertaining audiences and pitching to them.
"Our audiences don't wait for a TV show or a Web site to get good," said Ross Martin, senior vice president for programming at mtvU in New York. "They don't like it, they hit stop or they hit delete."
Thus, "if we compromise the quality of the work or the integrity of the content," he added, "we lose our credibility and we're done."
Advertisers like Ford Motor, General Electric, Microsoft and Yahoo have also worked with mtvU on branded-entertainment projects, Martin said.
A search on Google for information about "College 500," a series for Ford on mtvU that matches two student teams in a cross-country race, turns up almost 2.8 million results.
Viewers will be able to watch the episodes of "Engine Room" on mtvU in the United States, on various MTV channels in other countries and online - in nine languages - at the Web site MTVEngineRoom.com.
As the editing of the episodes nears completion, Martin said he could not discuss which team won the competition.
But he added, "I will tell you, the winning team won by a point after six challenges."
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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