The MTV Fanwalk - Red Carpet

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.”      Ralph Waldo Emerson


In 2008 MTV stirred the passion of young music fans the world over – an enthusiasm that was harnessed and made manifest through an initiative dubbed ‘Fanwalk’. This initiative both tested and nurtured MTV music fans by putting them through their paces with a gruelling walk from London to Liverpool.  The carrot? A ticket for each selected Fanwalker to attend the 2008 MTV Europe Music Awards.  Sat Bal (10 Dec '11)


Liverpool was the host city in 2008 and MTV wanted a way of measuring fans’ enthusiasm for its big awards show. That metric became the Fanwalk and it has since evolved into a 360-degree engagement between MTV and its fans and, more significantly, between the fans themselves. 

Here’s how…

The Fanwalk proceeds

 Back in 2008 Sony Ericsson and MTV partnered to create an immersive experience for fans that would last longer than the one-show hit of awards' night. Leading the initiative was Catharina Rijstenbil, at the time Sony Ericsson's global marketing communications manager (now brand strategist and co-partner of agency Brandactivist) along with MTV's Client Services team, headed by Russell Samuel, with the objective being that this initiative would be wrapped around certain core values:  work ethic, reward system and an 'anything's possible' aspiration - as well as a give-back opportunity for the MTV EMAs.  These values became the hallmarks of the Fanwalker plan when 100 fans were selected by MTV to embark on the London-Liverpool pilgrimage in return for a VIP ticket.

The Fanwalker initiative proceeded in conjunction with Sony Ericsson, a sponsor of the  Awards in 2008 and 2009, and Rebel Media which helped to execute the plan.

The  walk took 10 days and included a variety of tasks and activities for the walkers as they travelled together as a group to the show, with one overall winner of all of the tasks getting the chance to present, with a celebrity, at the EMAs.  In Liverpool, the 2008 winner,Dirk Schütt presented with Kerry Katona but the entire 100-strong group was given VIP tickets to watch the show.

“But it was the Fanwalkers, not MTV, that really put the ‘social’ into ‘social media’…”

MTV’s use of social media during the campaign was prescient but no-one expected Fanwalker friendships to grow and endure in the way that they did. True, the group was initially selected via MTV’s digital and social media campaign which asked candidates to state why they thought they were Europe’s biggest music fans - with a jury then picking 100 of the best responses  from 14 European countries. But it was the Fanwalkers, not MTV, that really put the ‘social’ into ‘social media’.

Fanwalker friendships started to develop on Facebook independently of the MTV media machine. Bonded by the shared goal of getting to the MTV EMA by the time the group met in person, the  connection was instant.  Friendships blossomed after the big walk in 2008 and MTV ran the campaign again in 2009, this time from Hamburg to Berlin.

MTV learned of the close-knit community it had created when 40 of the 2008 Fanwalk group asked if they could walk again with the 2009 Fanwalkers to the 2009 EMA. MTV applauded their initiative by ticketing the 2008 band to watch the show again. Clearly, the blisters and tiredness endured on the circa 350km walk hadn’t deterred the 2008 crew, although their better memories were of the Fanwalk  tasks: busking for charity, creating TV commercials and writing song lyrics.  

Fanwalkers accomplish their mission

And so the 2008 veterans joined the 2009 newbies, pulling out the physical and emotional stops to be a part of the 2009 EMA experience which culminated in Gillian Deegan  being anointed overall winner and presenting on stage with Juliette Lewis.


In 2010 there was no Fanwalk initiative but EMA fans were invited from all over the world to take part in ‘screamer castings’ for standing tickets to watch the show. For the 2011 MTV EMA, the 40 Fanwalkers were rewarded with show tickets once more, sparking an exodus of flights from all over Europe to EMA Belfast. MTV warmed to its status as a Euro social agent and the fans spent a great week enjoying Belfast, partying and making the most of Northern Ireland’s hospitality!

The momentum of the Fanwalker movement is an object lesson in how brand experience can turn fans into superfans - and the EMAs had patently succeeded in creating an army of superfans. Moreover, a cursory glance at the corporate and entrepreneurial landscape reveals one unremitting fact: a truly successful business model will reward all parties that are engaged in a particular objective. By that lofty standard MTV succeeded in developing brand engagement solutions which added value to  its partners, its audiences of global music fans and, of course, to MTV itself.

The veracity of its initiative lies in the stats - MTV tells us that online voting increased by a whopping 530% on a year-on-year basis (yes we double-checked!) and the Belfast show achieved the highest EMA ratings in the UK for eight years.

What is less quantifiable, however, is the level of endurance, excitement and future friendship created by a remarkable group of young people who shared a global goal.


Street view - a Fanwalker speaks:

"The good thing about this (Fanwalker) is that it created a sort of cult following. You know the kind: the Star Wars fan who just has to watch the latest film transferred to Blu-ray or the Harry Potter fan who feverishly awaits the next new book. Those two years were enough to create an epic following of fans, media and hype.

“And most importantly, they created an unbelievable bond between 200 youth from across the pan-European region of the world. I was one of these youth and 19 years old at the time. To travel like a rockstar with so many cultures and characters in under two weeks was a life-changing experience for me. It opened my mind and shaped some decisions I made after Fanwalk. And after three years, two Fanwalks and four MTV EMA shows later, the Fanwalkers (as we're so called) still meet up several times a year to celebrate the gift of friendship and the most important thing that brought us all together in the first place - music!  Simply put, Fanwalk is the best thing that has ever happened to me."   

Tamara Chetcuti22 yrs old, Malta.


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