George Lois on MTV's Changes to His Original Logo: Less Snookie, More Stones

Exclusive: George Lois, the ad man behind the original "I want my MTV" campaign weighs in on the new logo. "The visuals they're using now are of those silly reality TV people, instead of talent like David Bowie."

MTVWe've watched it coming from a mile away, with one reality show after another eclipsing good ol' fashioned music videos, but now it's official: MTV is no longer music television. The new logo is cropped and scaled to fit today's 16:9 aspect ratio TVs versus the old 4:3 standard, and it plays on the old logo's adaptability to promote the network's new favorite breed of programming. Perhaps most notably, the "Music Television" tag is gone.

MTVThe original one from 1981 was yellow with a red "TV" (right), but soon changed when station head Bob Pittman decided to fight flagging popularity with a radical ad campaign by George Lois's firm Lois Pitts Gershon: "I want my MTV."

Manhattan Design, who came up with the logo in the first place, didn't suggest an official color scheme, thinking it could be a so-called "living logo" that changed every time it was shown. "I didn't like the logo much at first," Lois told FastCompany.com. "But I thought it could be a great canvas. I remember somebody [at MTV] saying it'd be a disaster because they thought they'd have to re-register the logo each time they used it with a new image. But Pittman knew they were dead in the water otherwise, and said to go for it. So I showed them the Rolling Stones tongue coming out of the logo."

I Want My MTV

That Stones-branded logo accompanied the infamous 1983 commercial campaign featuring Mick Jagger shouting "I want my MTV!" that got thousands of kids to pester their cable operators to carry the channel. Pretty soon, Lois said, stars like David Bowie, Stevie Nicks, and Boy George were recording their own versions—with their own matching logos.

MTVThe living logo only ran for a few years though, and until this new re-design, "I don't think they took advantage of the fun you could have with that logo," Lois said.

The new logo (designed in house) isn't a major visual change—it's just cropped a bit on the bottom and the side to better fit the widescreen HD viewing experience—but "Music Television" no longer appears below it. MTV's head of marketing Tina Exarhos told the L.A. Times that "The people who watch it today, they don't refer to MTV as music television." She said they had thought about dropping the phrase before, but never pulled the trigger. "Now felt like the right time. It felt like, 'Why have we been so scared when the channel itself has evolved so much over the years?'"

The main difference now is that instead of Mick hawking the station, we get Snookie. "The visuals they're using now are of those silly reality TV people, instead of talent like David Bowie," Lois said. "They want to have their cake and eat it to—they're saying they're no longer music television, but they're using pretty much the original logo. In any case, I don't watch it anymore."

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4 Comments

  • Michael Ratcliff

    I was one of those kids pestering my cable company. Back then, our parents thought Music Television would totally destroy the world as we knew it. Didn't destroy the world, but MTV sure did change the world. It's shame that MTV is what it is now... mostly a follower. By the way, terrible re-design.

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    Michael Ratcliff
    michael@ratcliffcreative.com

  • steven sessions

    good historical information here, the "I want my MTV" was very effective and was not leveraged like they could've (even though it is reminiscent of the "I want my Maypo" ad slogan), http://bit.ly/9TGSLj