Back in June we reported that FreeCreditScore.com had launched a search for a new band to feature in its commercials. The credit monitoring service has a new advertising partner to promote its brand-building band search: MTV. Except, MTV doesn't seem to want anyone to know about it.
The band search has been reported as one that would replace the now infamous FreeCreditReport.com band. In fact, the new band will be for FreeCreditScore.com, a sibling company under the wing of the Experian corporation, a credit bureau. FreeCreditScore arose from America's 2009 Credit Card Act, which forced credit report advertisers to state that their product is "not the free credit report provided for by Federal law."
Experian's FreeCreditScore still exists, but its reputation took a thrashing after a few lawsuits. Freecreditscore.com works essentially the same as its predecessor. While the intiital results are free, those who forget to cancel their accounts in the first 7 days "will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership."
The winning band, The Victorious Secrets, was announced today. MTV's role in the band search, on the surface, appears to be editorial. But was it?
For the last month, numerous MTV News segments on MTV's website and TV broadcasts have promoted the contest and invited MTV's audience to go to Freecreditscoreband.com to vote.
From the MTV News blog: "You've seen the ads on TV for Freecreditreport.com, which feature bands crafting those tunes about not being able to get a loan or working a terrible job because of bad credit. What's the one thing they have in common? They're all incredibly catchy and dig deep into your gray matter. But with the launch of Freecreditscore.com, they need a whole new batch of bands to get their message (and their five newly-crafted songs) out there, and they've asked MTV to help."
By "ask" MTV News means "paid." We reached MTV and asked if MTV News' involvement was paid for. A representative confirmed that yes, it is sponsored by Freecreditscore.com, a deal likely facilitated by the brand's rep, The Martin Agency. So what, it's just an ad deal for a less-than-reputable product, right? Twisted into the package deal, the new ad campaign starring the winnign band will premier at the Sept. 12 MTV Video Music Awards.
The problem is that none of the MTV News reports, on TV or online, disclose that MTV News' involvement is paid for.
Seriously duplicitous? That answer depends on what you think modern media's responsibilities are. In today's modern media landscape where advertorial is commonplace, MTV News just seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.
MTV News is, however, risking its editorial and brand integrity. Those who remember a time when MTV still featured music videos, will remember an MTV News helmed by Rolling Stone editor Kurt Loder. In fact, by the early 1990s, MTV News and its "choose or lose" coverage was a reliable source of reporting for young people on the Presidential election. In 2008, MTV News also hosted an Iraq War talk with Barack Obama.
Here's a peek back at the glory days of MTV News, unsullied by sly sponsorship deals: