Rebrand Round Table: MTV

Design Features
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Last month, MTV started to quietly roll out their new rebrand across their digital and tv platforms. This certainly isn’t their first—in MTV’s lengthy history, they’ve undergone many facelifts, their classic logo the only thing remaining each time.

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This year, they’ve unveiled a whole new look visually based on a phenomenon typically referred to as “weird internet,” and basing a percentage of their content on user-generated submissions. What is weird internet, you ask? Take a look at what that search pulls up on Giphy:

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And then compare that to the MTV Look & Feel video:

It’s a little vaporwave, a little seapunk, a little Tumblr. It’s certainly different. We turned to our panel of designers for this Rebrand Roundtable in the hope that they can shed a little light on what’s going on.


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David Llewellyn – David is a New York City based advertising manager who also works independently as a social media and style consultant for the modern gentleman. David’s work was featured in “20 Boards For Man-Spiration on Pinterest”.

Jason Yang of Invisible Element – Jason is an art director, motion designer, illustrator, typographer, and overall design enthusiast. Jason’s work was featured in “25 Designers Getting Sharky on Shark Week”.

Belinda Love Lee – Belinda is a Cardiff, UK based designer specializing in graphic design and illustration. Belinda’s work was featured in “50 of the Best Business Card Designs”.

Danielle Evans -Danielle, a native of Columbus, OH, is a letterer and art director specializing in food type and photography. Danielle’s work was featured in “25 Satisfying Hand-Lettered Designs”.

1. MTV is an iconic brand. They’ve been around since 1981, and naturally have undergone some facelifts throughout the years as they’ve moved from being a champion of music specifically to a purveyor of pop-culture in general. What are your initial thoughts on this current rebrand? Is the direction clear?

Belinda: I don’t even know how to put my thoughts to words… I had to watch the rebrand a few times over to really grasp all that going on. And to be honest, I really dislike this rebrand. Visually, it’s a mess. I understand that it’s part of the seapunk style and I can appreciate that form of art in small doses, for example, an image on Tumblr or a gif. But to have your whole channel done in this style, it’s more likely to put people off from watching, than to keep them around. It’s far too over saturated with colors/poor 3D renderings/weird sexual bots, I feel like you need to be on a hard trip to be enjoying this. Even then, I’d be questioning it.

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The sexual bots in question, from the look & feel video.

I would like to say though, that I think the integration of relevant social media is kind of fascinating. It’ll be the first of it’s kind. It’s definitely their attempt to get people watching again in hopes of seeing their clips come on the TV, which could potentially work. My question is, how are they going to filter all the crap that people put up? 90% of Instagram content is made of poor lighting, bad selfies, and pixelated images. Perhaps the quality of the content isn’t so much of an issue for them, as their focus is on reconnecting the viewers to the channel to create the sense of oneness, hence the new slogan ‘I am my MTV’

David: Dare I say this? But I like this rebrand! I agree, it’s is a lot to take in, but I’m going to break it down from a generational standpoint. I might be the only person on this panel who was alive for MTV’s launch in 1981. But this new direction, with its random and raw imagery that seems to be tailored to our culture of blurbs and short attention spans – actually feels nostalgic of 1981. The music television pioneer of the 80’s meets the status quo of 2015 – it feels fitting. If it was another brand that was rewinding with this strategy, it would feel like trend chasing (or, as Belinda called it, borderline desperate). But MTV was the virtual forefather of this kind of creativity in media and hopefully this is a sign that they’re going back to their roots. They are rebranding with an homage to their original branding. Who can forget MTV launching with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” spoken by John Lack, played over footage of the first space shuttle launch countdown of Columbia, followed by montage images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. These images were painted over digitally (very Warhol-esque, I may add), splashed with neon colors and crude 80’s graphics. It reminds me of the days of Interview Magazine, Max Headroom…and MTV! I might be over-nostalgic here, but I think this is a bold attempt to remind a new generation that MTV was once the start of a cultural phenomenon.



Jason: It is quite difficult to look beyond the absurdly overstated smattering of crap and give a truly unbiased opinion based on aesthetics, but I’ll do my best.

With every rebrand I think it is safe to say that careful consideration is taken when it comes to brand strategy. My initial impression of this rebrand leads me to believe that MTV decided to throw the aforementioned crap on the wall to see what sticks, but I know that is far from the truth – In fact, the concept and strategy buried beneath the mess is poignant for its target audience and quite revolutionary.

Danielle: While I agree with David that the current MTV refresh is consistent with their founding vibe, I believe effect has nestled them between other big brands attempting to be “hip to the youths,” á la @BrandsSayingBae. The social media consumer of today is nostalgic and narcissistic but values authenticity above all else. While the new branding effort is consistent with current(ish) internet culture, it feels superficial and sensational with little thought given to concept besides “internet.” This look combines the feeble, uncanny valley computer graphics attempts of the late 90’s, early 00’s with seizure-inducing visual noise. Essentially, this “refresh” gives nothing new to the viewer, the antithesis of MTV’s pioneering intentions.

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2. It’s important to note that MTV hasn’t rolled out this rebrand on a full-scale yet; they’re testing it internationally before showing it in the US. How do you think US audiences will respond to design like this, based on current trends?

Belinda: I personally think that MTV is trying really hard, borderline desperate to stay relevant, there might be a hype initially, internationally and in the US, but I don’t see it lasting for long.

David: MTV was a different experience for me (cue the old nag, “when MTV actually played music.”). It will be interesting to see how the response is based on age demographics. Someone with sentimental perception of MTV will have a different response than that of a 14-year-old in the Midwest. Then again, I’m not MTV’s demographic anymore. It’s possible that this direction might actually resonate across different generations for different reasons and now just might be the right time. International media outlets are already embracing similar ‘seapunk’ imagery and rogue attempts to younger audiences (as in MTV’s rebrand test) but I don’t think we should underestimate the American audience in a homogenized global culture. It might take us a second, but we’ll get it.

Jason: There will be those who hate it and those who love it. Any initial shock value has probably been diluted by viral videos, memes, and animated gifs that have already made their rounds on teh interwebz.

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Danielle: Personally, I think this look will appeal broadly to nostalgia-addicted, tech-savvy, early Generation Y’ers and less to intended Millennials. This contrasts their current programming and viewer engagement, which is targeted squarely at younger users and tends to be too self focused for older audiences. This rebrand looks like a bunch of moms wielding memes in attempt to endear themselves to their kids, the builders of the interwebs. The audience will likely interpret this lack of fluency, and the engagement based communication, rather than the aesthetics, will be the saving grace for MTV.

3. Is this a smart choice on their part, to base their entire rebrand on the ever-shifting landscape of internet culture? This style is currently fairly popular among younger users, but, it could be passé in a matter of months (for example, the “seapunk” style peaked in 2013). Is this a gamble, or a solid choice?

Belinda: The reason why trends works on Tumblr is because it’s free to be ever-changing, it doesn’t cost much to put a new image, try a new style etc. To have invested the whole channel’s look and feel based on Internet culture is definitely a gamble.

David: If this rebrand succeeds, the style does lend a bit of flexibility to change and evolve. Besides, I think their rebrand directions in 2000 through 2010 did so much watering down of the MTV brand, that I don’t think any more damage can come from making a bold move and making the eyes dance a little. No risk, no reward.

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Jason: The direction that MTV is taking the brand is a gamble, however I think the reward definitely outweighs the risk. Since the chaotic nature of the art direction is so random that just might work in their favor. That randomness actually allows more flexibility in the visual content, which may help extend the life of the rebrand. Having said that, I hate this “seapunk” style mainly due to the fact that it goes against everything I know as a designer and animator.

Danielle: This formatting is a huge gamble. Should the campaign be ill received, the rebrand could become an ironically ineffaceable monument to corporate try-hard, fodder for web articles and shelved alongside the Hamster Dance and Gangnam Style for all digital eternity.

4. MTV’s logo has largely remained the same since their inception (almost 35 years ago), making it impossible to mistake, and easy to identify. Is there a point when they should give this mark the boot, since they represent more than just “music” and “tv” at this point, or is the form perfectly flexible and worth another 35 years?

Belinda: I personally like MTV’s logo. Having grown up with it, it’s iconic and I think they should stick with it.

David: The logo is iconic but it does beg the questions, “where is the music” and, in an internet-driven direction, ‘where is the TV?’ If we’re headed the way of primarily internet-based media vehicles, I’m sure MTV has already considered scenarios for the long term. I have less of a problem with the “TV” moniker, as “TV” feels more like a concept than a physicality (i.e.. Netflix and Hulu). With such a large undertaking in this possible rebrand direction, I say tread lightly with the logo to avoid possibly alienating their current audience. Keep the MTV logo as it’s anchor to the past.

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Jason: The window of opportunity for a full logo overhaul is long gone, just like the music. Fortunately, the mark has been able to withstand the evolution of the brand. Honestly, I’ve always been a fan of the MTV logo and enjoyed the various iterations over the years. I say keep it and own it!

Danielle: I agree with Jason- the time to update their logo is long gone. Their mark is recognizable but stagnant, almost a prisoner to the TV screen. Why hasn’t this logo been replicated in a pile of cats, emblazoned on loud-ass leggings? Their iconic moon landing flag spoke conceptually to brand values; their current use of the logo is a flashing station identifier or stark opener to shows. Dynamic application would ensure longevity of use.

5. Any closing thoughts?

Belinda: I’ll give them the credit that they are trying something new with audience generated content. But the overall look and feel, just doesn’t cut it for me. I feel like the over saturated images, videos, rapid cuts only promotes for more cases of ADHD.

David: I appreciate the nod to the past (“I WANT MY MTV”) in their pointing to their future, declaring “I AM MY MTV.” Well, suited in a highly interactive culture. Over-saturated images, rapid movement, unpredictability and dancing colors filling up my screen – that’s the MTV I grew up with, so I approve. Also, I’d do myself an injustice of I didn’t say ‘MTV, please play some damn music!’

Jason: My eyes are still burning.

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Danielle: Music and TV are so inundated into our web culture, our uploaded content appears unfinished without an accompanying soundtrack or situational comedic timing. There is no doubt MTV has largely contributed to online society, but they may have waited too long to redress their format. Looking at their instagram and tumblr, they use their accounts as a rapid fire news channel rather than generating buzz or inviting dialogue. When they make this switch to engagement rather than feeding consumers, the success of this initiative will hang on the community they foster, not the relevance of their look.

6. Rate the rebrand (1-10)
10 = “Wow. That was so beautiful I cried a little bit.”
1 = “Design inspired by Tumblr? Groundbreaking.

Belinda: 3- Visually it’s a hot mess, but I’ll give them a 3 for being cutting edge and trying to win us back.

David: I give it an (almost solid) 7. It has room to improve but this ‘kid of the 80’s’ appreciates taking the risk in a modern rewind.

Jason: I love the concept but hate the craft. So for that I can’t give it anything higher than a 5. Maybe I too need to evolve and rebrand, seeing how MTV and I are the same age and all.

Danielle: 2 – Aesthetically, this looks like the bottom of the internet’s trash can, and everyone will notice. 2 points for the fade away shot.

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