A year ago, as Jeannie Scalzo spoke with Taco Bell executives at the pre-show for the "MTV Video Music Awards," the seeds of a partnership were planted. The Taco Bell team wanted to hatch something involving its meal boxes. Last month, that goal came to fruition. Leading up to Sunday's event, the chain has been running a "Big Box Remixed" promotion, where a QR code on the boxes (and cups) allows customers to access exclusive content via smartphones. There are clips of artists performing, updates hosted by MTV News' Sway and other video related to the awards show.
From MTV's perspective, it doesn't hurt that the clips also look to drive tune-in to the VMAs and Friday's lead-up concert, where Taco Bell is a top-line sponsor. During the VMA broadcast itself, the chain is sponsoring "house artist" moments, where four times the cameras will capture R&B artist Jessie J performing.
Taco Bell is just one of the VMA sponsors using some form of in-show integration, which has helped MTV increase revenue for the event by a double-digit percentage. Apple, State Farm and Kia are among the marketers looking to do more than run traditional spots for the first time. So are Bing, Dove, Red Bull and Sharpie.
Looking ahead, Scalzo, senior vice president, integrated marketing at MTV, said multiplatform deals for the 2012 VMAs were inked during the recently completed upfront, even as the particulars need to be developed.
Among MTV's core 12-to-34 demo, VMA ratings last year surged 33% with an average of 7.9 million, equaling the network's highest-rated broadcast in the demo since 2002. After a year off, Beyoncé returns as a performer this year, which might drive ratings up again.
On Sunday, Apple takes over a coveted position held by Rhapsody as the digital download sponsor. During performances by Adele and Lil Wayne, it will run 10-second graphics pointing viewers to iTunes for a download. Apple has run ads in the VMAs before, but Rhapsody's deal prevented it from using creative with any music link.
For his part, Lil Wayne will look to capitalize on the exposure by releasing his latest album digitally at midnight after the show wraps.
State Farm, which has been involved with the "MTV Movie Awards," will sponsor a performance by band Cobra Starship during Sunday's pre-show. It's also allowing two fans in attendance to move up to premium seats.
Kia is sponsoring an interstitial with shots from a rooftop pool party featuring "party band" LMFAO. It is also debuting new creative during the show with LMFAO music.
Also during the pre-show, the set designer, Scott Story, will be seen using a Sharpie. Bing search bar will appear onscreen during a segment with artist Swizz Beatz.
Verizon is returning as the sponsor of the Twitter Tracker, which appears on "All Access Live," the MTV.com offering complementing the show. The Tracker aggregates conversations taking place during the show. A new feature this year allows MTV.com visitors to follow a map showing where particular artists are sitting in the auditorium, adding another element when following their tweets.
Will Kanye West have a different reaction to Lady Gaga's performance than Pitbull depending on where each is seated? "You'll get to see how celebs in the room are reacting to the moment," said Colin Helms, vice president of MTV's digital operations. "All Access Live" is available on iPhones and iPads, on Android devices and via MTV's new WatchWith app, which augments online viewing through aggregation of Facebook and Twitter activity during a show.
Mindful of the tendency of millennials to use a laptop or mobile device while watching, Helms said MTV has taken steps to avoid competition between the on-air and online experiences.
"We're very sensitive to that," he said. "We don't want that to happen. We're trying to make the stuff simple enough to use that you don't have to be very head-down to do it." For example, "All Access Live" offers behind-the-scenes streams from dressing rooms and other backstage areas. In the past, MTV has produced the feeds; this year, its seven cameras will run live and uncut. Viewers can toggle between them with the likes of Bing, Taco Bell, Dove and State Farm extending their sponsorships there.