Before Fred/Alan, Alan and I worked together in college radio, independent production, and eventually at MTV. Our most visible work there was the branding (before any of us called it “branding,” including the now iconic MTV logo.
0 comments Tagged: MTV logo, MTV, MTV Networks, branding, logo, cable, television, TV, network IDs,.
I was the first Creative Director of MTV: Music…
"I got these from a house cleaning at [Marv Newland's] International Rocketship. They are layout ideas for the early animated MTV logos back when MTV actually showed music videos all day. I don't know if these were ever actually animated & aired, but they are cool nonetheless!”
I think a lot of these MTV logos were comped for commercial bumpers for an TV advertising Fred/Alan did in 1989.
"TV or MTV?"
I’ll look around for some of the spots.0 comments Tagged: 1989, MTV logo, advertising, commercials, television, MTV, graphic design, illustration,.
Jazz singer and crooner Tony Bennett completely revived his career with his 1995 appearance on Unplugged. But, it was Fred/Alan that awakened Tony’s and MTV’s interest in each other in 1988. I think it was a great, funny spot, just right for the network.
This commercial was the first spot we did as a full service agency, the slickest and most expensive we’d ever done, and awakened me to the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of the game, and that I hated being part of, no less owning, an advertising agency.
To make a long story short, Alan and I had happily, productively, operated Fred/Alan as a boutique company with five employees, where we consulted on high level branding assignments of cable media properties like Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite, and MTV, and produced everything from promo spots to television shows. In late 1987, everything changed when Nickelodeon asked us to up the ante and become their full service ad agency, and MTV soon followed suit. Since neither of us had actually worked in an agency (though for years we’d made a lot of advertising and been agency clients) we started hiring experienced creatives, account managers, and media buyers. Strike one.
Our first big creative hire, Noel Frankel, was (is) an amazing copywriter and art director. At Fred/Alan he was directly responsible for some of our great campaigns for Nick-at-Nite and VH-1. He came up with this spot utilizing the iconic "I Want My MTV!" of LPG/Pon and Alan’s 1987 positioning of the network “TV or MTV?” and mashing it up with Tony singing adapted lyrics from Cole Porter's “I Concentrate on You,” an unabashedly old school standard from the Great American Songbook. I was nervous; we’d never licensing anything for anything at MTV and the cost was probably going to be in five figures. Noel assured me, “If the client likes it, they’ll pay for it.” Sure, I guess, but it’s not the way we were used to doing business. Alan and I always worked as if it was our own money.
Alan and I hired our old friend, the amazing arranger Garry Sherman (sure he did all the classic Coke jingles, but also everything from the original “Good Lovin’" to Steely Dan to Midnight Cowboy) to prep the music.* We’d misunderstood a joke of Noel’s and made the track too contemporary. Strike two.
To bring the spot home we hired two more friends. Robert Small and Jim Burns were Robert Small Entertainment, and they’d design the production and Robert would direct. The entire set was built, beautifully I should add, Tony was on stage ready to shoot, when I get a call from Noel at the shoot.
"The floor’s no good. We need a shiny floor."
Oh no, how much will that cost?
We’d never spent more than $20,000 on a whole promo campaign. Now we were approaching $100,000 for one spot alone.
"Don’t worry. The client will pay for it all!"
I called Tom Freston and Bobby Friedman at MTV. They approved the floor.
Copywriter & art director: Noel Frankel
Director: Robert Small
RSE producer: Jim Burns
Fred/Alan producer: Albie Hecht
Arrangement & recording: Garry Sherman
Executive producers: Alan Goodman & Fred Seibert
* An interesting, funny, sad aside. By the end of 1980’s the era of the live studio musician had almost come to an end for commercials. Instead of a two day $25,000 arrangement and $25,000 orchestra, people like Garry were taking a full week creating finished tracks on synthesizers and getting $5000.
When it came time to shoot the spot, we realized that actors playing musicians in the orchestra behind Tony would look phony, since they didn’t actually know how to play music. But, we could hire real musicians (of which there were plenty available, since there wasn’t much work anymore) as extras (Garry played the conductor), and believe it or not, they were cheaper to book than actors. A real shame.0 comments Tagged: MTV, commercials, advertising, MTV Networks, 1988, Noel Frankel,.
A bunch of the Alan and Fred story —at MTV (and Nickelodeon, for that matter)— happened before Fred/Alan, from 1980 until early 1983. If you’re interested, Fred’s covering some of it over on his personal blog.0 comments Tagged: MTV, Fred Seibert, Nickelodeon, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983,.
From the moment Fred/Alan started doing MTV’s advertising in 1988 we’d wanted to create a print campaign that would capture the feeling of change and surprise we’d been able to inject into the on-air identity from the first seconds of the channel.
Finally, in 1990 our clients agreed to a consumer advertising in Rolling Stone magazine, which eventually would run across two years. Their (then) large scale format was perfect and we were able to commission some amazing artists to participate; to contrast our photographic music trade campaign (and emphasize our identity roots), illustration was the primary medium. Our excellent art director Tom Godici picked all the art* (with some kibbitzing from the sidelines) from both sides of the generational divide, with a mix of household names, ad biz faves, and soon-to-be’s.
Our favorite story from this campaign involved Robert Crumb. Generally, Tom would contact the artists personally, tell them something about the campaign, and emphasize we’d want their take on our headline “Just when you think you know what it is… it’s MTV.” Our only request —it was optional, and most didn’t— was that the MTV logo would be included. Crumb’s representative told us to send over some of the other artists’ work and that he’d send it over to Crumb in France, but that it was extremely unlikely he’d participate. Tom dutifully packed up the stuff with a personal letter telling Crumb we knew he hated contemporary music but we loved his work.
Months later the package was mailed back, seemingly unopened. Sure enough, the original contents spilled out, to all appearances, unread. But Tom’s eyed popped when along with all the other stuff flies out an old, yellow edged piece of onion skin typing paper with a Crumb drawing (the one up above) and a note.
"Please forward the $300. My wife is spending money faster than I can earn it."
* By R. Crumb, Lou Brooks, Janet Woolley, Robin Nedboy & Al Harp, Marvin Mattleson, Gene Greif, Jenny Holzer, Alex Grey, Robert Yarber, Fred Schneider, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Lisa Powers.0 comments Tagged: MTV, 1990, 1991, Rolling Stone, advertising, print, illustration, graphic design, photography, consumer,.
Since the very beginning (August 1981) the MTV packaging and advertising work we’d done used line illustration and animation to establish a clear identity, distinct from the all too common live action music videos or the slick motion graphics on the rest of the television networks. But photography loomed very high on our radar. Fred’s sister/Alan’s wife, Elena Seibert, is a portrait photographer, and we’d each been to collecting photography at home. Rock photographer Annie Leibovitz had recently been doing advertising campaigns for The Gap and American Express, and Fred was particularly taken by Oliviero Toscani's”real people” campaign for Espirit.
So, 1990 rolled around, nine years we’d been developing and executing MTV’s DIY, low-fi style. It was time for a change and a music business trade magazine campaign was just the place; Billboard, Hits, maybe Cashbox. The music industry had begun to take the network for granted, assuming it was just their amazing artists(!) that was responsible for the boom in sales. F/A creative director Noel Frankel directed the first ad with Winger, and then art director took the helm for the rest. A classy, quality, photographic look, black & white, featuring top artists of the day, and lyrics from their top recording.
Unfortunately, in those days right before Nirvana broke, it wasn’t the most impressive lot. OK, half of them (Tone Lōc, the B-52’s, Living Colour) were respectable. But Paula, Hammer, and least of all, Winger? And I’m not really sure what to say about Faith No More.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Billboard, MTV, advertising, photography, print, trade advertising, Hits,.
Throughout the 80s, our in-house creative team at MTV had established all the original vocabulary (written and visual) for the channel. In 1983, Alan and I resigned and set up Fred/Alan as the media’s first “branding” consultancy and advertising agency. Bob Pittman was a smart and shrewd competitor; he signed us right back up. MTV Networks was our first client.
By 1987 we were being driven insane by a raft of new employees who thought they had the secrets of MTV in their heads, and kept telling us how to “improve” our work for them. The problem was, each and every one of them had a different version of what was right. We suggested that there should be a definitive (yeah, right) “positioning” document so we were all singing from the same (that is, our) hymn sheet.
Alan wrote an amazing story. I should emphasize the word “story” because, unlike the marketing documents written by typical advertising geeks, or marketing executives trained at business schools, Alan Goodman is first and foremost a brilliant thinker who has complete control of the craft of writing the English language. He wrote a persuasion that thought through the issues at the network (advertisers aren’t sure where MTV fit into their 1980s conception of television channels) and defined within the wider context of media consumption by viewers (“Normal TV is boring. MTV is alive and looks interesting.”) His story had drama and conflict, and ultimately, a solution. And, by the way, he wrote my favorite description of successful media. To paraphrase: television can’t be predictable, it needs to be dependable.
(Everyone liked Alan’s piece so much that it became the template for the future of MTVN marketing. Soon enough, “positioning” documents became de rigueur. To this day, Alan writes these things, as do many other, less talented thinkers. MTV Networks doesn’t do much of anything without “positioning” it first.)
The result? “MTV vs. Normal TV” became the common thinking around the network for quite a while (I would argue they still try to think that way today) and became our ad campaign:
"TV or MTV?"
We wanted to keep “I Want My MTV!" (which was created by our friend, and my mentor, Dale Pon; but we’d been the network clients for it). But marketing executives of the 1980s were already infected with the virus they have today. “Why stick with a working plan? We want something new!”
-Fred0 comments Tagged: MTV, branding, 1987, positioning,.
Circa 19910 comments Tagged: MTV, print advertising, advertising, print, illustration, 1991,.
MTV’s network identity wasn’t a Fred/Alan project, but it might as well have been, since Fred and Alan began their professional television collaboration there.
Fred Seibert began working as virtually the first employee of MTV: Music Television in May 1980 (under programming head Bob Pittman). He quickly recruited his radio colleague Alan Goodman to help lead the strategic efforts to create a network promotional strategy. Pittman first raised the idea of animated IDs as the equivalent of radio jingles; Fred and Alan upped the ante by thinking of them as the video generation’s ‘album covers,’ the visual touchstones of their cultural life.
Frank Olinsky was Fred’s childhood friend. His tiny design firm, Manhattan Design, was chosen over giant international to create the iconic trademark. And in quick succession, we enlisted virtually unknown independent animators to create the network identifications. Colossal Pictures in San Francisco, Broadcast Arts in Washington DC, and Buzzco in New York were the first creative teams.
Within days of the network launch on August 1, 1981, the rapidly morphing, indelible logo was a fixture of the popular culture, and a revolution in media branding had begun its run.
The true creative breakthrough came when we stared at the dozens of Manhattan Design’s color take-outs on their amazing logo; we had to figure out the standard, fixed logo we thought was de rigeur for a ‘famous’ trademark. Frank Olinsky felt differently and thought every show on MTV should have its own logo, and supplied his takes on what they could be. The problem was that MTV: Music Television wasn’t going to have any shows, just a continuous wheel of hundreds and thousands of music videos in a row.
After weeks of delirium filled sessions of staring at all the cool designs they’d provided us we realized the solution would be to use all of them. Right, we could use all of the logos, and more, all the time in every piece of animation and promotion. Using them all at once would provide a frentic pace and color hysteria that we thought would be a perfect metaphor for pop music.
Guess we were lucky enough to be right.0 comments Tagged: Bob Pittman, Broadcast Arts, Buzzco, Colossal Pictures, Frank Olinsky, MTV, MTV IDs, Manhattan Design, Network IDs, TV, animation, branding, MTV Networks,.
…we were busy wondering what had happened to us.
By the late 1980s, Fred/Alan had morphed into a full service advertising agency, with writers, art directors, and account, production and media departments. Over 40 people.
We started trying to get some new accounts, the lifeblood of any agency. And not a skill we were particularly attuned to at the time. First step, a agency brochure!
It’s great fun doing good advertising, and we’d had a better run than many. Sure, we’d been critical to the building of MTV, VH-1, and Nickelodeon. And we did some awesome work for Swatch, Mosaic Records, Myers’s Rum, and Barq’s which had driven lots of business for them. It ought to be easy to wrap it all up and brag a little, yes?
Putting together a company hype is a drag, pure and simple. In person, we could speak passionately for hours telling you about what went into our work. But somehow, writing it down was somehow crass.
It began to dawn on us that maybe being an advertising agency wasn’t for us.0 comments Tagged: Barq's, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, MTV, MTV Record Club, Mosaic Records, Mosiac Records, Myers's Rum, Nick-at-Nite, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Swatch, The Movie Channel, VH-1, self promotion, NAN,.