MTV: The “M” Stands for Millennials

I have graded nearly fifty student case analyses of MTV. Make no mistake, Millennials love this brand. It’s iconic.  It is part of their growing up years.

So it was with great interest that I read of MTV’s logo update announced last week, the first update in its 28-year history.

According to The Brand channel and articles in MSN and Ad Age, the move is intended to align with the fact that MTV is now better known for reality TV shows than music videos. There seem to be at least four different motivations for the change.


1. Better align with what MTV does today

The MTV brand has represented more than “music television” for many years, and now – appropriately – the words “music television” are no longer part of the official logo. In addition, the original logo has undergone a slight morphing. When MTV launched, the upside of the logo was that it communicated the very specific, targeted business of the brand to a potential audience that had never heard of it. Of course, the downside of the logo is that once the brand diversified to include material beyond music, such as, say, Jersey Shore shenanigans, the logo became confusing, or even absurd.” – The Brandchannel

2. Better appeal to Millennial target

“It represents a new visually defined MTV, stimulating its past, present and future and embracing its diversity. Everything from Jersey Shore, to the VMAs to collaborations with the MoMA. The logo is part of MTV’s re-invention to connect with today’s millennial generation and bring them in as part of the channel.” — MSN

3. Put greater focus on MTV’s stable of talent

“The new logo is meant to put the focus on MTV’s current slate of talent — the stars of mostly reality shows like “Jersey Shore,” “Teen Mom,” and “The Buried Life.” Since the logo (which seems to have a shorter “M” than the original) is also available in a see-through model, it can change when new stars come into the fold. Tina Exarhos, a spokesperson for MTV’s marketing team, explained the change to “The New York Daily News”: “If you watch the channel, you’ve seen that it’s definitely going in a new direction. We really wanted to see the logo featured in a new way, and this was really meant to be able to house all the great things that are happening at MTV at any given time.” PeaceFM

4. Increase brand recognition

“Mr. Friedman said MTV has also had a problem with brand recognition among viewers who would love certain shows but had no idea they aired on MTV. “The way the logo frames it makes it a simple reference point,” he said.- Ad Age

The move has been questioned publicly on several fronts: Why now after all these years? Is it enough of a change? Is tweaking enough? Is it too mainstream/not irreverent enough? So I put the question to my Brand Strategy MBA class at University of Notre Dame.

Based on the case you just read and your experiences with MTV, what do you think? For the most part, students felt that the change was not big news.

Jonathan:I think it’s all much ado about nothing. The change is so minor, I initially thought there was simply something wrong with my cable when the bottom of the logo was cutoff.”

Michelle: “I actually had to Google the MTV logo to get an idea of the changes that they made. I don’t think that there was much change at all and I guarantee that many of their teen viewers won’t see the change either.”

Suzy: “The changes are subtle, and not very noticeable among viewers. If anything positive comes out of this initiative, it is the publicity and buzz that was created as a result of the change.”

The larger issue for these students is that the change probably doesn’t go far enough in explaining what MTV means today.

Several acknowledge that the brand’s emphasis on reality shows may not have the resonance for them that it did when they were growing up. They understand the brand has changed, but what does it stand for now?

Marissa: “I think MTV needs to reinvent their brand identity. Their programing has changed with the times as they now focus on reality shows and docudramas like “Teen Mom.”

Rob L: “I think there is no substantive difference other than dropping “music television” which was long overdue. It was the source of a lot of irritation, even to those that didn’t watch the channel, because it caused confusion given that’s not a core part of their programming. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard someone complain about “back when MTV played videos” I’d pay off my student loans. As it stands, they seem to have no identity, no focus. At least Tru TV is direct about their showing reality shows, you know what you are getting into and are not disappointed by their 2nd rate reality entertainment.”

Rob: “Changing the logo doesn’t do much to change the disconnect between ‘music’ and whatever they want to call what they’re showing now.”

Amy: “For those of us who remember MTV when they used to play music videos, the “M” stands for music. Simply dropping the explicit reference to ‘music television’ does not change anything.”

The folks at MTV no doubt understand that their brand is in transition and that is probably the main reason for the logo update.

Iconic brands need to speak into the culture to remain iconic. Standing still is not an option in youth marketing.  Perhaps the logo change is just the beginning? With hit shows like the “Jersey Shore” leading the way, I think we may only be seeing the beginnings of how this brand plans to connect with Millennials.