MTV Preps Live VMA Ads With Usher, Iggy Azalea, Rita Ora & More

Kevin Winter/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV
Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora rehearse for the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum in Inglewood, California on August 21, 2014.

The ratings of MTV's Video Music Awards hinge so much year-over-year on zeitgeisty, unpredictable moments, it's often hard to forecast what will be the most talked-about topic the morning after. Witness 2013's telecast, which had an anticipated *NSYNC reunion and hyped performances from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry -- only to be usurped by Miley Cyrus' twerking shocker. The cumulative buzz helped drive last year's ratings by 66 percent over the 2012 awards.

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MTV first addressed its advertisers' need to be associated with real-time buzz last year by partnering with Twitter Amplify to embed sponsors' messages into promoted tweets and video clips shared moments after a major highlight airs. To further capitalize on of-the-moment conversations, MTV will help produce live commercials for a series of brands, including Verizon, Unilever's Degree, Caress and TRESemme and Procter & Gamble's CoverGirl. The network will also work to embed real-time messaging into a handful of others' commercials, including Target & Beats By Dre, Pepsi, Trojan and Electronic Arts' The Sims 4.

Pepsi in particular will team up with Usher for a post-performance commercial that will debut a new song and utilize the hashtag #UsherNOW via Twitter Amplify. Adam Harter, Pepsi's vice president of consumer engagement, says the partnership was an opportunity to one-up last year's program with Katy Perry, which included a fan-voted contest that helped make "Dark Horse" the next featured track (and ultimate Hot 100 chart-topper) from her album Prism.

"Pepsi is a brand that has always been at the forefront of key pop cultural moments, and our longstanding partnership with Viacom unites two strong pop culture brands to deliver value in groundbreaking ways," Harter says. "From Katy Perry at the VMAs last year to our #UsherNOW promotion this year, we are focused on closing the distance between Pepsi fans and their favorite artists and providing fan access to exclusive, realtime content."

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Other official sponsors of Sunday's telecast include Wrigley's 5 gum, Johnson & Johnson's Clean and Clear, Kia Motors, State Farm, Taco Bell and truth. Online, Pepsi, Trojan and Unilever will sponsor this year's Twitter Amplify program, while EA and CoverGirl will each sponsor exclusive content on MTV's VMA Tumblr pages.

Why all the fuss? Last year's Miley moment broke Twitter records with 360,000 tweets per minute, beating out previous record-holder Beyonce's 2013 Super Bowl performance. Plus, the VMAs are the first major awards show leading into the labels' crucial fourth-quarter release season, and helps spark significant sales spikes for featured performers.  Plus, custom packages can come at a premium -- upward of $5 million for multiple spots, according to executives familiar with deal terms.

To make it all happen, Rachel Baumgarten, senior vice president of Music Group integrated marketing for Viacom Velocity, tells Billboard that MTV's ad sales execs have helped create a "mini-mobile production unit" working alongside the show's editorial team. "We want to make sure the work that we do with our partners feels in lock step with the overall fabric of the show," she says from her trailer outside Inglewood, Calif.'s Forum, where the awards will take place for the first time this year. "And so we are doing rehearsals, we are making sure that our truck is talking to the right people from a production standpoint, that we are hooked into the main show truck, writing scripts coming up with contingency plans."

That will include live segments for Unilever featuring House of Style host Iggy Azalea and special guest Rita Ora, who will also appear throughout the VMA pre-show; interstitials hosted by CoverGirl-sponsored artist Becky G; and a fan tribute to Beyonce immediately following her VMA Vanguard Award segment, sponsored by Verizon.  Target & Beats by Dre will also team up to present an exclusive premiere of the music video for Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj's "Bang Bang," whose performance will open the show.

Throughout, Baumgarten and her team will be working closely with the producers to highlight the most appropriate moments for the right ad partners. "What's great about this show is we hit lots of different beats throughout the night," she says. "Depending on the partner, they're trying to tap into different elements, and some moments will be louder than others. Last year we had a wonderful moment with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and their 'Same Love' win, so that's an example of something our partners might want to tap into."