History Lesson Of The MTV Logo

The MTV logo, with its fat “M” and spray-painted scrawl of “TV” on the lower right corner, is one of the most recognizable and imitated logos in existence today.

Designed by Frank Olinsky and the team at Manhattan Design in 1981, it is a graphic that can stand various changes and treatments, depending on the occasion, without ever losing its base design and familiarity.

Coupled with the images of the astronauts on the first moon landing and the slogan “I want my MTV,” this innovative branding surely had a strong impact on MTV’s quick success.

[pullquote quote=”They used to give us tapes of MTV so that we could look at it and see what we were doing.” credit=”Mark Goodman, MTV Former Veejay”]Another approach that was ground-breaking at the time included the promotional commercials using A-List artists repeating the slogan. [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Cyndi Lauper[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Boy George[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]David Bowie[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Billy Idol[/lastfm] appeared in this commercial, encouraging watchers to “turn it on, leave it on,” because prior to MTV, people didn’t put on a TV show to “have on in the background” the way they did with radio. But MTV was a ‘visual radio station’ that you could have playing while you talked on the phone, read or did homework. Having rock stars entice you to watch the station gave MTV an image of coolness.

Next Page: More MTV ads >>>

In these ads, as you can see in the one below with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]John “Cougar” Mellencamp[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Police[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Cars[/lastfm]’ Ric Ocasek, and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Madonna[/lastfm], they instruct you to find MTV on “cable” TV. For those of you who don’t remember, there was a time when everybody didn’t receive their TV signal via “cable.” Most TV viewers in 1981 were watching TV using an antennae and could only view channels 2 through 13, and maybe some UHF channels. Even if you had cable TV service, your particular service provider might not include the channel for MTV. Ironically, the New York City cable provider didn’t carry MTV, and the Veejays couldn’t watch the station unless they traveled to New Jersey and watched it there.

“They used to give us all, once a week, … tapes of MTV, the whole thing, with the music and everything, just so that we could look at it and have an idea of what we were doing,” said Mark Goodman, one of the original Veejays.

Next Page: Some looks from the ’90s >>>

In the ’90s, the artists and slogan were gone from the ads, but the logo was unchanged, yet continued to display more creative (and often gruesome) treatments.

More MTV Videos, History and Interview on dave fm’s MTV 30th Anniversary Section. Click here.


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