It might be argued that the first time cable cracked the outer shell of the national consciousness was MTV’s "I Want My MTV!" campaign. That tag line, a riff on an old slogan for the breakfast cereal, Maypo, came to embody the truck-chasing fever that gripped the U.S. during the Reagan years. In part because of "I Want My MTV!," the network grew so popular and so quickly that within a few short years its passionate, youthful audience had evolved into its very own market demo; one actually named after MTV. And in the 20+ years since, the "MTV Generation" has become, not merely a symbol of youthful passion, but one of the most highly coveted targets in advertising. The problem for MTV (and Viacom) was that such passion was difficult to quantify, which, of course, made it difficult to sell at a premium. But all that might just be changing if Betsy Frank has anything to say about it. Last week, on the eve of the CAB’s annual convention in Chicago, I caught wind of a brand "deprivation study" Frank and her MTV researchers had recently conducted. It involved heavy MTV users who voluntarily gave up all interaction with the brand for two weeks. The concept intrigued me, so I called Betsy for details. "How cool was that?" she asked me, beaming, while she explained that MTV co-opted the idea from a national pizza franchise. Frank said that MTV got a bunch of kids to agree not to watch any MTV, log on to mtv.com, etc., while using journals, scrapbooks and audio cassettes to monitor what it was like going cold turkey on MTV. And while most completed the two weeks, a handful said, despite the fact they were being paid, they couldn’t do it and simply quit. "They’d go to school the next day, which is as close as those kids have to water-cooler dynamic, and they’d listen to their friends talk about what they’d seen on "TRL" and "The Real World" or-and this was a real eye-opener-something that had been advertised, and not having seen it just drove them crazy." In fact, Frank says those that did get through the study often found that one of the monitoring techniques-a "buddy system" that allowed the subject to discuss his or her feelings with a friend-served as much as therapy as it did a tracking device And the other things that MTV learned? "We learned that kids see the programming and advertising on MTV as seamless, and that MTV is a lifestyle home-base for these kids." Anything else? "That advertising carries more credibility on MTV than it does on, say, the WB or other networks, because MTV has an expertise in entertainment." Because it was so non-traditional, Betsy Frank claims she is still "shocked" she approved the study, and offers the caveat that denying someone interaction with a brand would not work in most media research. But, nevertheless, she says what MTV learned about its audience is "incredible" and may indeed change how agencies buy the network’s many platforms. "We’re in an environment in which marketers are questioning the value of mere exposure," said Frank, adding that the deluge of messages consumers get each day and the spread of ad-zapping technology only add to their concerns. "These days, to be able to show advertisers that your audience has a greater connection to your programming, and that they watch your advertising as intently as they do everything else-which this study showed-well, now that’s really something."

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