Sep 01, 2020

Original, custom brand campaigns keep fans engaged during the annual award show.

When the 2020 Video Music Awards opened to The Weeknd, singing from a deck towering above Manhattan captured by swirling drones and strobing spotlights, it was a moment of triumph. It was the start of a celebration of the year in music, pop culture, and creativity for fans, artists—and marketers.

With 44 minutes of branded programming across all screens and social, our brand partners were an integral and engaging part of the VMAs multiplatform production. Velocity, ViacomCBS’ branded content studio, collaborated with our clients to create branded campaigns that weaved seamlessly into the show. This approach enables advertisers to transcend traditional 30-second spots with native storytelling that drafts off of the key editorial moments within the show and that entertains viewers through a shared love of music. It enhances the overall consumer experience by reducing the commercial load, and also creates new emotional connections and touchpoints in a time when the world is more disconnected than ever. The holistic content campaigns extend beyond TV to drive conversation across the linear, digital, and social landscape.

Given the state of disruption due to the pandemic, many advertisers assumed that they would need to run existing commercials during the event. They thought it would be impossible to create quality branded content and integrated storytelling given the necessary production limitations. However, Velocity was determined to make it happen.

And as a result, four major advertisers turned over the entirety of their traditional commercial inventory to branded content produced by our in-house studio.

A Moving Drive With Toyota

For Toyota, we developed a VMA drive-in at the Skyline Drive-In in Brooklyn with VMA producers. It was the program anchor for our multiplatform marketing blueprint that included performance integrations with Maluma and CNCO, alignment with the “Best Latin Video” category, and our first-ever all Spanish language in-show branded show segment.


The custom in-show segment  features the music of J Balvin, interpreted across a range of musical genres, as a Toyota Highlander drives through the boroughs of New York City on the way to the performance in Brooklyn. We worked with seven local New York musicians to record their own unique rendition of Balvin’s hit song “Mi Gente” in their individual styles: R&B, rap, salsa, indie pop, rock, jazz and Afro-Fusion.

To create this piece, we vetted hundreds of local musicians. Our goal was to give a platform to these real musicians, many whose livelihoods are dependent on live gigs and performances that unfortunately aren’t possible at this moment. We wanted to give them space on MTV's biggest stage while building a story of unification through the global love of Latin Music.

To find a balance between cinematic and authentic, we used a mix of steadicam and handheld camerawork, along with car rigs and the Russian arm system to capture the vehicle’s journey through the city. Adding to our digital footage, we also shot talent on 16mm film for an added layer of texture. On top of that, our graphic treatment used a variety of fonts (from handwritten to modern typography), split screen, sound waves, film stock textures and other collage-like elements, to enforce the dynamism and personality of New York City.

The final result resonated with audiences, leading to immediate engagement across platforms in both Spanish and English.

Honoring Every Day With EXTRA

Our collaboration with Wrigley’s EXTRA® Gum featured a special in-show performance and a new award category.

The award for “Everyday Heroes: Frontline Workers,” was sponsored by EXTRA and  highlighted the best performances by first responders. The idea was born out of the comfort and connections that music provided during COVID quarantine and those viral musical moments that healthcare workers comforted our nation with. EXTRA’s brand mission is all about consumer connections so the marriage of this editorial award to the brand felt really powerful.


We also treated VMA viewers to a special performance of the song “If the World Was Ending” by Julia Michaels and JP Saxe. As part of a digital push to show how music brings people together, we enlisted a group of influencers to cover the track, and Saxe and Michaels could view and comment on the impact of their song with fans in adjacent digital content.

To make these types of multi-platform activations work, we need to strike the right share of voice between commercial messaging and editorial, and utilize the right mediums and platforms to do so respectively. When we architected the program this year, we knew that the linear expressions of the award and performance would be appropriately branded and in support of EXTRA’s brand equity “give extra, get extra” messaging.  Meanwhile, our digital amplification and social promotion would provide the right, organic canvas for more commercial messaging in the places fans have become accustomed to. Holistically, the plan struck a nice balance.

To produce the 2:30-minute VMA performance and adjoining content, we shot in the backlot of CBS Studios in Los Angeles (the same lot where Seinfeld was filmed). Throughout the EXTRA process, as well as the shooting process for all of the original content, we worked in small crews. Team members edited remotely. Connecting four different types of laptops and monitors turned our home offices into rooms resembling a villain's evil lair! But, the ingenuity of our production team, along with the innovation and technology we leveraged, allowed us to accomplish the highest level of creativity and production value while maintaining appropriate safety measures. This dedication to adapting with the times is a big reason why Velocity executed more than 40 live-action shoots in August.

Burger King’s Custom Rewards

For Burger King’s first VMAs advertising effort, we fused creative and technology to create a multi-platform and multi-screen experience.


Starring The Burger King and hip-hop star Lil Yachty, a series of segments woven throughout the show prompted fans to engage with the Burger King app. Each piece of content—from the King and Lil Yachty’s arrival at the VMAs, to their backstage antics and their performance preparation—featured a QR code that activated specific in-app rewards, and culminated in an augmented reality performance of Lil Yachty’s “Top Down” by the duo. Fans could even customize elements, such as the lighting or background, of the AR performance live in their living rooms.

Enabling Chill With Coors Light

For Coors Light, our first ever alcohol sponsor, we developed the “Best Music Video From Home” award to celebrate the artistry born out of our collective time at home. And, to embody Coors Light’s “Made to Chill” brand ethos, Velocity created custom work that plays off of the kind of self-capture content that musicians and fans alike have been making while spending more time at home featuring country crossover star Kane Brown “chilling at home.”


We continued this theme with a digital series where Kane presides over a virtual game night with three of his biggest fans. Fans were also treated to a Twitter Q&A with Kane, where we surprised fans with VMA Chill Packs of co-branded swag so they could chill at home, too.

To find the right talent for the spot, we considered a number of factors. For alcohol advertisers, we need to look at talent that is over 25 years of age but also who has a fan base with a high composition of 21+.  We wanted to pair Coors Light with talent that had broad appeal to be the face of their “made to chill” message. With Brown, we knew that his musical focus this summer with “Be Like That” would represent a crossover from county into R&B/Hip Hop with collaborations with Swae Lee and Khalid. That, coupled with the fact that he was very active on social media about spending time at home, felt like he was a natural fit for the creative.

Collaborating to Surpass Expectations

In addition to these four campaigns, we also worked with advertisers to create custom commercials that would connect to the VMA audience. For example, we created two original music-focused spots for Geico’s “What Are You Waiting For?” campaign which saw DJ Khaled recording his first ASMR track and sampling … carpets. We also developed brand and music collaborations between Clear Blue and Ashley Simpson, Chime and T.I., and Pepsi and Sofia Carson, who together helped launch the beverage brand’s US Hispanic voting initiative in the show.


In all, the 44-minutes of Velocity-produced original branded content stretched across in-show and ad surrounding breaks, digital, social, and AR. With ingenuity and flexibility, we surpassed expectations, delivering  branded programming that stays true to the celebratory and unifying spirit of the VMAs, each artist, and our brand partners.


Beth Trentacoste is SVP and Head of Creative & Production, Velocity, ViacomCBS. Matthew Newcomb is SVP Integrated Marketing, Velocity, ViacomCBS.

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