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Marketing Week (MW): Can Vice remain credible to its young, independent readership, being part-owned by a company as big as WPP?
Matt Elek (ME): We get asked that question a lot, and there is a really straightforward answer. Young people are interested in consuming authentic content. As long as we continue to make engaging, authentic content for young people, we are never going to lose that audience.
In the world of marketing and media, it is easy to get caught up in these corporate structures, but your average 18-year-old couldn’t give a shit about who we’re owned by. It makes no difference.
MW: Would you say Vice’s young readers want edgy content, and if so what does that mean?
ME: Young people tend to like things that are original, unique and authentic. In marketing speak, that is called edgy, but we just call it real life – the real things that young people are into.
Young people are more naturally interested in things at the fringes that are atypical or untraditional. Whether that’s music or going out, they are instinctively drawn to rebel against social norms or things that they see as mainstream. As people get older, they are less fussed about rebelling, or being seen to be countercultural in some way.
MW: Do you specifically seek out advertisers that share these principles?
ME: The advertising that is relevant for Vice and a lot of like-minded media brands is, to some extent, self-selecting. In an ideal scenario, they are inclined to do ‘edgy’ marketing campaigns because that is the best way to affect young people. Brands that want to reach young people but aren’t willing to push the boundaries of mainstream marketing get out of it exactly what they put in, which is half-assed, incomplete or poorly targeted messaging.
MW: Would you turn down advertising if it didn’t fit with Vice’s own brand and tone of voice?
ME: We have often turned down advertising in the past. When advertisers come to us and they have a piece of creative that is poorly targeted or is really bad, nobody wins if that ad runs. Our audience will look at it and just say it is awful. They will resent us for having the audacity to try and push it to them.
Even worse, they will reject the brand because they can smell bullshit a mile away. It reflects badly on the advertiser and badly on us – it is a zero-win situation.
Most advertisers are generally – but not always – very receptive if we tell them they have done the wrong thing. Most media brands don’t have that view and are just happy to take whatever advertising money they get. That is why you end up with the back third of a lot of magazines filled with total garbage.