Much has changed since "Unplugged" first premiered on MTV in 1989. The show weathered Bon Jovi through Nirvana through Jay-Z (all featured in landmark episodes), but since the 2000 the show had been revived as only occasional specials. Then last year MTV revived the show as a Web series sponsored by Starburst. Plans are now underway for a second sponsored season, with a broad social media push, putting the latest incarnation of the series on everything from flatscreens to mobile phones.
The show, of course, got its name from the act of largely electric bands playing acoustic -- like Dylan at Newport in reverse. Part of the fun of the series had always been seeing bands in surprising new contexts, whether hard rock bands like Kiss or Alice in Chains without their amps, rappers like LL Cool J and Jay-Z backed by bands, or, even the likes Roxette and Mariah Carey unadorned.
The idea to resurrect the show online had been kicking around at MTV for some time, according Chris Ficarra, vice president of integrated marketing at MTVN. Then Starburst, working with Starcom, approached MTV wanting to do something with the "Juicy Contradiction" campaign the candy had launched at the time. "We immediately gravitated toward the idea, because 'Unplugged' is a contradiction," Ficarra told Online Media Daily.
"To understand why this partnership works, you have to look at Starburst campaign," says Jennifer Jackson-Luth, senior manager, marketing communications for Starburst. "We think of Starburst as the ultimate contradiction - it's solid, yet it's juicy like a liquid - and we are using the Unplugged music series to showcase our contradictory personality."
The centerpiece of each episode plays up the "Juicy Contradiction" messaging with each band or artist performing a cover song fans normally wouldn't expect. The clips lend themselves to viral pick-up. The video segment of Reba McEntire covering Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy," became one of the show's most-viewed clips and, in fact, McEntire reprised the performance on the CMT Awards. There are plans to release the cover as a single.
The online "Unplugged" now boasts a Daytime Emmy Award in the "New Approaches" category honoring broadcasters and new media for innovative ways to present programming to viewers.
In this, the second year of 'Unplugged' as a Web series, Starburst will extend the partnership beyond static sponsorship. "The Starburst partnership with 'Unplugged' is a multiscreen approach including digital, mobile and social extensions that give us the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with our consumer versus waiting for them to find us," says Jackson-Luth.
"We're going to eventize this a little by having viewing parties on social media," says Ficarra. When episodes first air they'll be accompanied by a chat module pulling in conversations from Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The episodes will air live on MTVN web properties (depending on artists, the shows air on either MTV.com, VH1.com or CMT.com) as well as MTV's Facebook page, and Starburst's fan page.
The first season of the partnership featured performances from B.o.B., Train, Vampire Weekend, the Silversun Pickups and Katy Perry, among others, all having their own contradictory moments. The second season's lineup has not yet been announced.