CRC 2017: MTV hands over the design reins

Jam3 designed a campaign for the U.S. brand that allowed fans to show off their creativity.

This article appears in the March/April 2017 issue of strategy.

When he found out it would be Miley Cyrus, Adrian Belina knew it was going to be special. The partner and ECD at Toronto and L.A.-based Jam3 had been going back and forth with MTV on a campaign to promote the U.S. brand’s 2015 Video Music Awards (VMA) that would be heavy on fan involvement. But the discussions hadn’t included the host.

“Whenever you’re dealing with user-generated content, my first recommendation to the client is it’s got to be someone the internet is going to have a field day with,” Belina says. Some stars, like Beyoncé, are simply adored. But the polarizing Cyrus is perfect.

The brand, #2 on this year’s report card, wanted to play up the VMA’s unpredictability. Almost every year, the internet explodes over an unscripted moment, from Cyrus’s twerking to Kanye’s Taylor Swift interruption. The campaign was designed to trigger that explosion in advance.

Jam3, the #6 agency, built a website that allowed users to create their own GIFs and memes of the pop star using green screen images provided by the brand.

Of course there were risks. “That’s a big thing for not just a brand but an artist to put themselves out there and let people do whatever it is they want to do with the content,” says Belina, the CRC’s #12 CD. Jam3 built a back-end moderating system to allow MTV to reject and approve fans’ creations.

Designing the site came down to a choice between quantity or getting “really weird stuff,” Belina says. Rather than developing an online tool for fans to create their images, which limits creativity, Jam3 opted for downloadable assets that fans could use in whatever design program they preferred.

“There’s some horrendously wonderful stuff in there that you wouldn’t get if we had built a tool,” he says. “We actually [told MTV] it wouldn’t be worth your time and money. Everything would just look like a variation of something.” That design choice had a huge effect on the “wildly different” content that emerged.

Belina also credits MTV with the decision to take user-generated content offline. The promotion launched with a teaser campaign of green screen billboards, some with Cyrus on them, some with only the VMA website, which were attention grabbing by virtue of looking “almost out of place.” Those billboards were later populated with the user content.

“That was a brilliant idea because it makes the campaign truly 360 degrees,” Belina says. “It started in outdoor and in print, went to digital, went to social, then back to digital and back to the real world. I think that’s what made this project really special.”