AutoblogGreen Q&A: MTV Vice-President Ian Rowe

After MTV announced last week that they were doing a special edition of Pimp My Ride in honor of Earth Day this weekend AutoblogGreen had an opportunity to talk to Ian Rowe, MTV's Vice President of Public Affairs.
AutoblgGreen: We're talking today with Ian Rowe the Vice President of Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships for MTV. Ian, why don't you tell us first about the Break the Addiction campaign. I suspect there's probably a lot of people who read AutoblogGreen who may not be familiar with it.

Ian Rowe: Well, about a year ago, we were really analyzing what were the issues that young people were speaking about and concerned with and it was very interesting that they were speaking about their concerns about what they've heard about this thing called global warming. But typically they saw images of polar bears or ice caps that were melting and not really clear as to how those issues were actually relevant to their day-to-day life and issues like the war in Iraq and our dependence on foreign oil and how that put us in situations that as a country threatened our national security. We saw an opportunity to really help young people connect the dots, that somehow their daily behavior actually was related to all of these things, that they were simple things that they could do in their daily lives that would not only help to preserve the environment, but to could save them money, improve their health and improve the general welfare of this earth that we live on. Simultaneously the President talked about the country needing to break our addiction to, America's dependence on oil, so we saw an opportunity to launch a massive campaign that we decided to call Break the Addiction to deliver literally every single day. So 365 days of very pragmatic simple tips that any young person can do in their daily life, whether it be, car pooling, saving water, using a different kind of shower head, using different kinds of bulbs, but all very simple things that the audience could do as a way to easily bring them into what is now a larger conversation and a larger understanding of the issues of whether or not we-if we collectively engage in these kinds of behaviors, we can have a substantial impact on preserving our environment.

Continue reading the interview with Ian Rowe after the jump

ABG: Besides things like PSAs that you run between your programs, what sorts of other things has MTV done to promote this campaign?

IR: Oh, sure. Well, we had a long-term show with Al Gore, where we talked to him obviously about his film Inconvenient Truth and, again, talked to him to engage young people in why this issue is of such great importance. We also launched something called the Break the Addiction challenge because historically when folks were talking to young people about global warming issues, it's typically a campaign around fear and all the terrible things that are going to happen which are all true, but we saw an opportunity to actually positively motivate young people through talking about the opportunity that's presented by the prospects of green technologies and careers of the future. So we actually had, in partnership with Campus Climate Challenge, we gave away prizes to young people on college campuses all across the country who came up with ideas for how they were going to bring their school community to be fully carbon neutral or 100 percent powered by renewable energy and we had a great response from colleges all over the country. We've also just taken one of our biggest branded shows, Pimp My Ride and instead of the traditional pimping, we added one very cool element, which is that we pick up a hugger car, a 65 Chevy Impala, and we installed an 800 horsepower diesel engine and we converted it to run on biodiesel and then we put it on a race track against a high performance sports car and it beat the sports car to prove that you can still be eco-friendly and not have to sacrifice performance whatsoever. So we tried to use some of our biggest platforms to really elevate the message and in addition, by the way, we also had Al Gore do a special presentation on our Video Music Awards, the biggest night of the year, around this issue.

ABG: Touching on that the car that you were doing for the Pimp My Ride program, that's going to be coming up, I believe, on April 22, right?

IR: On Earth Day.

ABG: Clearly a modern biodiesel fueled engine is going to be a lot more fuel efficient and cleaner than what would have been originally in a 1965 Chevy Impala, but one that's putting out 800 horsepowers is still gulping down quite a bit of fuel even if it is biodiesel.

IR: Absolutely. You know, I think the message is that because one thing that I think that we've got to realize is that Americans in general, we have to not only change how much we're consuming, but the processes by which, we are actually extracting our energy. So one of the messages here is not necessarily that you stop driving your car because realistically in the United States or in China or in India or in any developing nation, it's going to be much harder to control how much we consume, but if we can show that if we use bio-diesel or ethanol or if there are alternative energies, renewable energies we can have a significant impact on the amount of CO2 that we're putting into the environment, so we feel like by showing it in this context, the first lesson is that you don't have to sacrifice performance and you can still be eco-friendly. That's a great first step in understanding, to then lead to the larger discussion which is what are ways that we can actually reduce the amount of consumption? Do we need an 800 horsepower diesel engine or could we use something else to get from A to B?

ABG: One last thing I'd like to touch on a little bit is that I put up a couple of posts on AutoblogGreen and Autoblog a few days ago to announce this upcoming Pimp My Ride special. Some commenters on the site noted that it seems a bit disingenuous of MTV, to have programs like Rock the Vote and Break the Addiction while the bulk of your programming celebrates, rampant consumerism with programs like Pimp My Ride, Super Sweet 16, Cribs and other programs. How would you respond to comments like that from people?

IR: Well, you know, the comment really is that young people are not monolithic, you know, just like adults may have their guilty pleasures and enjoying certain shows like My Super Sweet 16. They also are very concerned about the issues that face their generation, like the environment, and so it's really incumbent upon us to provide programming across that full spectrum. So young people don't necessarily see that dichotomy so when they see a Pimp My Ride that's focusing on Break the Addiction where we're talking about converting to biodiesel and how this will help the environment. It's in the context of a channel that they see all the kinds of programming that they like, so in some ways it's more powerful and has more impact because of the context in which they're seeing it so we actually think it's not incongruous at all.

ABG: Is the Break the Addiction program something that's going to continue beyond next week or is this the end of it or are you going to continue doing similar types of things going forward?

IR: We're definitely continuing, especially as we enter the presidential election year where issues like energy independence are going to be a central theme to the election, so we will continue to engage young people on this issue, plus other issues. Obviously the war in Iraq and others which are deeply important to young people and the world which they're going to inherit.

ABG: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today and it was very informative. Thank you very much, Ian.

IR: Thank you.

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