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,.
Writer/producer Scott Webb is probably the creative hero more responsible for the Nickelodeon you love everyday than almost any other single person. It’s not for nothing that he began at Nick as a writer/producer and went on to become the network’s very first worldwide Creative Director.
In June of 1984 Fred/Alan was asked to help revive Nick. WASEC/MTV Networks management knew the success we’d had with the ‘branding’ of MTV (though the B-word wasn’t in use yet), and thought they need to taste more of our secret sauce. The channel had the worst ratings on cable and kids everywhere disliked it intensely. We thought the reasons were clear, Nickelodeon was not welcoming to kids of all ages. It looked and sounded like it was for babies, which was exactly American children thought of it.
We thought the solution was to stop telling kids what was on (they didn’t really care) and promise them that Nickelodeon was the right place for them to hang around when they were watching television. Why? Because Nickelodeon was going to actually listen to them when it came time to pick the shows. No one else listened to kids, but we would.
Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, Nick’s head honchos, pretty much gave us carte blache as to how we’d pull off this task to them. We, in turn, insisted they hire Scott Webb. Scott had been through boot camp with Fred’s mentor, Dale Pon, so we knew he was whip smart, creative, and strong. He had worked for Fred at The Movie Channel, so we knew his phone number. We knew that even though he didn’t resemble any other hack promotion producer in America (he was less of a TV head than a comic book geek) he’d have exactly the right vibe to reinvent Nickelodeon —and all of television— for the future.
When he brought in the soundtrack for his first promo Debby thought we’d made a horrible mistake. It’s funny when you hear it now, but at first she thought it was too fast and that no one could ever understand it. (Put it up against any episode of The Fairly OddParents and it sounds downright sloowwww.)
Scott wrote this promo in a media vocabulary that kids would recognize. Comics was the image, “everyday” was the message (it wasn’t just Saturday morning for kids TV anymore), and fun was the takeaway.
From this day forward, Nickelodeon would never worry about kids again. Six months after “Everyday” ran, with hundreds of other creative spots that followed Scott’s model of “talk with kids, act like kids,” Nick’s image was fixed forever. They went from worst to first in the ratings, where they’ve remained for 25 years.0 comments Tagged: 1984, Nickelodeon, Scott Webb, TV spots, branding, promises, promos, television, commercials,.
Fred/Alan started with working with Nickelodeon in late 1984 when Bob Pittman was made President of MTV Networks and he fired the existing staff, which had succeeded in losing the company tens of millions of dollars, and worse, making Nickelodeon the lowest rated cable network in America.
Bob assigned us to the remaining executives, Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, and suggested to them the Fred/Alan approach to branding could help them succeed. We immediately introduced them to our notion of network “promises” and then redesigned the network with Tom Corey and Scott Nash (Corey McPherson Nash, Boston) and hired some of our favorite writers and producers to create a ‘brand’. There was no money for programming or advertisting, so all the work needed to be done by the airtime on the channel itself. Nonetheless, our efforts succeeded in bringing Nickelodeon from worst to first in the ratings within six months, and Nickelodeon remains America’s #1 cable network of any kind, earning billions of dollars and making millions of kids happy.0 comments Tagged: Corey McPherson Nash, MTV Networks, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon IDs, Scott Nash, TV spots, Tom Corey, animation, branding, cable, television, Tom Pomposello,.
Howard Hoffman is an artist and animation director who’d worked with Fred/Alan on a number of projects. One day he presented a zany idea. Howard spent Augusts at the Maine summer camp of his youth running an animation workshop, and wouldn’t it be better if the kids were animating something “real” like some Nickelodeon network IDs? That could be cool, right?
Well, sure. How bad could they be?
Not bad at all, it turned out; they were great. Howard made Nick IDs (and we filmed the kids introducing their shorts) for several years, and they were some of the best pieces we ever ran on the network.0 comments Tagged: MTV Networks, Maine, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon IDs, branding, camp, Tom Pomposello,.
Eugene Pitt and The Jive 5 were as perfect an element of network identity as Fred/Alan ever found. All the filmmakers who worked with us on Nickelodeon lined up to be the first to use their soundtracks on their network IDs.
The Fred/Alan television branding execution often started with defining a network’s sound. A background in music and radio made this logical for them, though it was a philosphy grounded in their belief that TV was driven by the sounds first, with the visuals often following the audio lead. In the case of the Nickelodeon rebranding in 1985 the time frame was short, under six months, so the audio and the visual identities were developed simultaneously.
For over a year Alan and Fred had been thinking about old radio jingles, and thinking of ways to incorporate a human, vocal sound on their identities. In 1983, working on The Playboy Channel’s Hot Rocks, they scouted around for an a cappella group to record distinctive IDs for the music video show. Alan’s former colleague, writer and producer Marty Pekar, had started Ambient Sound to capture contemporary recordings of classic doo-wop groups from the 50s and 60s. He introduced them to the leader of The Jive 5, Eugene Pitt, as “not only a great singer, but a smart man.” They found Eugene to be, as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO Terry Stewart said, “the most underrated soul singer in America,” and a wonderful collaborator. When the opportunity to work with Nickelodeon presented itself, Fred, Alan, and producer Tom Pomposello immediately knew the Jive 5 would be the perfect underpinning for defining the vocabulary of the network.
Convincing Nickelodeon was another story. When we brought up the notion of a sound identity, Nickelodeon executives, still not fully understanding of where we intended to steer the channel, suggested a consideration of Raffi, then a recent phenomenon as a singer for young children. “He’s very popular; our research confirms it.” Fred/Alan tried a lot of arguments to bring them around to a doo-wop sound, but they fell on deaf ears. “Doo-wop’s 30 years old, no kid has ever heard of it.”
Frame grab from “The Jive Five”, by Jon Kane/Optic Nerve
We won the day on two grounds.
Fred played on the executives’ liberal backgrouds. “We love all forms of African-American music, and using doo-wop will be a great way to educate American kids without anyone being the wiser.”
“Bom-ma-bom, a-bom-bom-a-bom, ba-ba-bom-bom-a-bomp, b-dang-a-dang-dang, b-ding-a-dong-ding.”
“What kid isn’t going to relate to that right away?” Alan asked.
Animation by Eli Noyes & Kit Laybourne, Joey Ahlbum, Colossal Pictures, David Lubell, Jerry Lieberman & Kim Deitch, Marv Newland/International Rocketship, and Jon Kane/Optic Nerve. Additional singing by Juli Davidson, and Paul Rolnick.
Back in the day my partner Alan Goodman and I were known as the logo guys. It was both flattering and annoying, because we’re not designers and it deflected attention from the brilliant people we worked with often, like Manhattan Design (Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman, and Patti Rogoff designed MTV’s logo) and Corey & Co. (who designed Nickelodeon’s). But after we became known as the group who developed (not designed) the MTV logo, our reps were set in stone for a while. Eventually we were able to morph it into the idea of developing media brands, which more accurately reflected how Alan and I thought of ourselves.
After setting the vocabulary (more important than design in many ways) and “look” of MTV Alan and I left MTV Networks to set up our independent Fred/Alan Inc. and our first client was… MTV Networks. By 1984, the five year old Nickelodeon was in trouble, having lost an accumulated $40 million (that’s in 1980’s money, like $200 million today) and worse, it was the absolute lowest rated cable network in America. Dead last. MTVN chief Bob Pittman asked Alan and I to help. It was a tough decision for us to make since we were broke but had no interest in children’s television or the people who worked in it. The ‘broke’ part won out.
The key decisions we made:
• Keep the name “Nickelodeon.” We figured that 10,000,000 kids (there current circulation) knew the name and what it stood for. Management wanted to switch to “Nick,” since it was easier to spell and say; let’s forget that everyone outside the company would wonder why they were named after a garage mechanic. There were a lot of reasons for killing it: no one under a certain age had ever heard of a nickelodeon, and those who had knew it had nothing whatsoever to do with children; the word was hard to spell correctly in the age of pre-Google and spellcheck; and, the word was way too long and thin to dominate a television screen.
• Treat the network like an exclusive club, where only kids could join, not like a TV station with all kids shows. Kids in June of 1984 (when we started work) needed something they could call their own. They felt on the rear end of life, they told us so constantly. Adults (parents and teachers) made all the decisions for them. TV in the 80s wasn’t for them. They were scared of getting older, but their unconscious biology kept egging them on to age faster.
• Ban the word “FUN” from the Nickelodeon vocabulary. Every network promo told the kids that Nickelodeon was fun. It wasn’t. We thought it was better to be “fun” than say “fun.”
• Redesign the logo. Famous television designer, a moonlighting Lou Dorfsman, had designed the logo in 1981, and our brilliant friend Bob Klein had added a silver ball that zoomed around the screen in and out of everything a kid might find exciting.
Alan and I didn’t find it exciting. We’d been working a lot with a new friend, Tom Corey, who owned Corey & Co. (tragically, Tom’s passed away, his companies are now called Corey McPherson Nash & Big Blue Dot) in Boston. He came down to the Fred/Alan office in New York with his partner Scott Nash and heard our pitch for the network. we told them about our decisions I talked about above, and told them while we didn’t know anything about kids’ programming we knew that the offices of Nickelodeon were as quiet as a chapel (as one of the internal wags put it) and that in order to spice the place up we hoped that when our jobs were done they’d all be shooting spitballs at each other. Tom and Scott dug in eagerly.
I wish I had their presentation. It was pretty informal —a bunch of logos sketched on a page— and none any of us were all that crazy about. Eventually, we settled on one that was 3D in nature that revolved around itself, and kind of a standard designer treatment of a trademark. We were about to settle when Alan spoke up and said he didn’t think it was in keeping with our reputation as moving image thinkers about logos.
The MTV logo had been sold in with two thoughts. 1) Rock’N’Roll was a dynamic constantly changing medium and a logo should have a built in updating mechanism. And 2) More importantly, television was moving pictures. Logos were generally designed by print designers who wanted a perfect image, then handed off to moving image designers who had to figure out how to make the damn thing move. Often, it ended up with a big hunk of metal hurtling through space, cause what else were they going to do? We’d argued that in the 1980s that was a dumb thing to do. Why not just design a logo with movement baked into the conceptual frame right from the beginning? TV was the most important place to see the logo, and print designers could just *STOP* the motion and pick an image for an ad; it would be more dynamic even in the print that way.
Alan pointed out that’s how we’d made our bones, and besides were right, darn it. Movement was the way to go, constant change made for a energetic network, and kids were the most vital force in the world. Give them something they relate to: change. He was looking at the orange splat on their page. Tom and Scott argued that orange generally clashed with everything and that would make the logo stand out (as long as we didn’t let designers try and make it work “correctly.”) The splat could morph into any image we liked. And it wasn’t the MTV version of change. I came along for the ride that Tom, Scott, and Alan were proposing, and we trucked over to Bob Pittman’s and Gerry Laybourne’s office to make the pitch.
Bob and Gerry didn’t buy it. No one else there did either. “It doesn’t match anything.” “It’s flat.” “It’s not as cool as the MTV logo, what happened to you guys?”
Ultimately, we prevailed. I’m not really sure how, since all their objections were right on. But we were the “logo guys,” so they eventually bought our action. I’m thrilled they did, since our work with Nickelodeon is some of my favorite stuff in our careers. Tom and Scott went on to be among the premiere designers in television and kids (Scott’s now one of the leading children’s book authors and illustrators), Alan’s a successful producer and brand strategist (still consulting Nickelodeon), and they all deserved the accolades the world could throw at them.
(By the way, the book Nickelodeon Logo Logic was put together in 1998 by Sheri Dorr and Laurie Kelliher at their in-house creative services department after Alan and I had stopped full time consulting to the company six years before. The company had expanded so dramatically and so many people had trademark needs that without us —the “logo police”— around Nick’s Worldwide Creative Director Scott Webb needed some objective rules set down for designers and marketers to follow. I’m not so sure we’d agree with all their points but a trademark is a dynamic thing. Different people interpret it different ways, kind of like a musical composition, and it’s natural it’ll be looked at in new ways over the years.)
• Nickelodeon discontinued use of this logo after 26 years. They call it a “rebranding.” We would probably beg to differ.
• On his website, advertising executive George Lois claims to have designed the Nickelodeon logo. Since Fred/Alan developed the logo directly with Tom Corey and Scott Nash, his assertion is clearly false.
—Fred Seibert, 20090 comments Tagged: MTV Networks, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, branding, cable, logo, television, Tom Corey, Scott Nash, Corey McPherson Nash,.
Fred/Alan worked with Nickelodeon from 1984 through 1992 as brand, marketing, and programming consultants, as their advertising agency, and through it’s Chauncey Street Productions subsidiary (managing director: Albie Hecht), as television producers.
Alan has continued to consult and produce for Nickelodeon. Fred produces cartoons and consults for the network. Albie became Nick’s President of TV & FIlm Production for many years and now produces TV shows for them too.0 comments Tagged: 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, Network IDs, Nickelodeon, branding, cable, television, 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,.