A New Kind of Advertorial – Vice magazine and its advertising agency Virtue, blur the line between media and marketing

THE BACKGROUND …

Vice magazine is a glossy publication based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (hipster capital of the world) and published in more than a dozen foreign-language editions globally.

It’s distributed for free in bars, cafes, boutiques and galleries and reaches a mostly male audience of one million 18 to 30 year olds. Vice has also developed its own online video site with Viacom– which draws 3.5 million uniques a month, who spend about 15 minutes each on the site.

18 to 30 year olds (Gen Y and Millenials) are a coveted demographic, one that is hard to reach via traditional marketing channels and approaches. Authenticity is key in advertising to these consumers, who can smell a marketing push a mile away. (Disclosure- I am a Gen Y’er).

THE STORY …

A recent NY Times article illustrates how the Vice brand has its own advertising agency, aptly named Virtue, and takes an nontraditional approach to advertising:

In what may rankle media traditionalists who favor a bright line between advertising and editorial, Virtue’s approach includes using editorial staff at Vice to help develop marketing plans for clients. –via NY TIMES

For example, in videos produced for clients like the Alliance of Action Sports – Virtue has enlisted the Vice staff to come up with a finished product that, much like the magazine itself, engages viewers with the content while promoting the brand in the background:

Rather than trumpeting Alli, the networks, or the soft drink, the videos highlight the competitors’ backgrounds, aiming to engage even those with little interest in skateboards or BMX bikes. –via NY TIMES.

In developing marketing campaigns for Vice advertisers, Virtue avoids focus groups and traditional agency processes and instead works with many of Vice’s own employees to generate concepts:

I have just been amazed at how they come up with ideas that are on-brand,” Spencer Baim, founder of Virtue.

THE BOTTOM LINE …

While the close connection between Vice’s editorial and advertising is troubling, one thing Vice and Virtue are getting right is the authentic messaging. You can’t fake it. You can’t come up with it in a board room. Real content that appeals to the Gen Y and Millenial demographic, can only come from the untrained minds of young writers, filmakers and the other creatives who are already engaged in a shared culture with their peers — not from a traditional advertising agency.

In the article ,Vice founder Shane Smith says all brands should think of themselves as media companies and editorial should not be closed-off in a cocoon. To an extent, I think he has a point. Good editors and good marketers are both essentially trying to get inside readers heads – why not connect the two areas more often.

One flaw in this argument though, is the uncanny way in which Vice’s employees are a microcosm of its audience. (In contrast, think about the gap between the editors at Vogue and their average readers). I don’t know how many other publishing and media companies out there can make this advertising and editorial combination work for them, although it’s definitely food for thought.

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