Adrian Peter Tse
Oct 20, 2014

How Vice builds brands and lets content consumption guide expansion

ASIA-PACIFIC – To its youth followers, Vice is the rock star of digital media publishing. But its lesser-known commercial side could also be seen as a trend-setter for the way it works with brands to form a synergistic business model.

Alex Light
Alex Light

Campaign Asia sat down with Alex Light, head of content at Vice last week at Social Matters to discuss the publisher’s strategy for content and how it works with brands as well as its movements in Asia.

For Light, his title is a misnomer. “Actually, I’m more like the head of commercial content,” noting that Vice’s focus on editorial and engagement with youth culture around the world had always been the tip of the spear. With the rise of social media, the publisher evolved and opened new avenues to working with brands to craft content to activate and connect young generations.            

Light's own path fits in well with this adaptation. With a creative agency background, he had been searching for a new frontier. “[Creative agencies] teach you discipline, process and the strategic structure of how to work with brands, but when it gets to a point you throw it all in a bin and move on from that world,” he said.

According to Light, the creative process needed “an overhaul”. He cited research showing that millennials are more connected to other millennials in other countries than to the generation before them in their own countries. “It’s through technology that they are more globally aware and culturally interested,” said Light.

The insight has led to structural experimentation at Vice. The Vice News channel, for example, is organised by language rather than country or region. It’s a kind of borderless model that Vice is testing, a single news platform that the company can launch in any region.

The fundamental difference in how Vice works with brands, compared with other media, is the starting point. “It’s not advertising," Light said. "It’s creating compelling content that consumers want to watch that is brought to you by a brand.”

Light contrasted his view of creative agencies, where “you get your brief and it often comes down to a USP and the thing you’re trying to communicate about your product," to Vice's approach. "In our world, we start with the audience, look at what they want to watch and consume and then work backwards from there.” 

Vice services the Asia region collectively through its Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney and Melbourne offices. Its presence has largely been through regional and global campaigns with international clients such as Intel, W-hotel, Budweiser (China), and Converse.

“We don’t work with anyone on the ground across Asia at this time but for us getting the brand right in Asia is more important than getting big quick,” said Light.

(This past weekend, Vice announced a "major expansion" of its Vice News channel into several new territories, including Australia.)

Using a “sit and wait approach” allows teams at Vice to see how well their global content is being picked up, at which point they start to cross promote it through their channels before starting to invest in localising it.

"Coming into Asia, we know which markets are looking at Vice and engaging with our content,” said Light, who believes that using content to bait regions is an advantage for Vice’s commercial work with brands.

"I see the work that we do as driving brand awareness and engagement," he said. "We’re committed to hard results, but we work at the top half of the purchase funnel and the brands work on the bottom half where they can build out more preference and depth of product education.” As an example, Light refers to a campaign Vice Australia did for Schweppes called “Knapsack Bartender”, a documentary series that followed a bartender around the world exploring strange booze using the Schweppes’s mixer products.

“As a media publisher we’re not hung up on driving everyone to our site. We’re far more interested in pushing content out to where our audience consume content.” As such, Vice’s strategy is to build communities and drive traffic on YouTube and Facebook that allow people to consume content on those channels without necessarily going back to Vice.

Combined with this is Vice’s use of syndication partnerships with other media publishers including CNN and Fairfax media. “We employ all of that and sweep the brand’s channels into action, then we build a media campaign around that to drive scale.”

“We want to get as many eyeballs on the content as possible,” said Light, “And they’ve got to be the right eyeballs.”


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