Brands must adapt to an ad-free world, says Vice boss Shane Smith

Brands need to develop their media production skills and learn to work with media partners as young people increasingly reject traditional advertising, Vice Media CEO and co-founder Shane Smith has said.

Vice Media CEO Shane Smith reporting from Libya. Credit: Tim Freccia
Vice Media CEO Shane Smith reporting from Libya. Credit: Tim Freccia

Smith has just been named the Cannes Lions 2016 Media Person of the Year. And the latest issue of Marketing Week includes exclusive access to a discussion between Smith and our guest editor for the week, Unilever CMO Keith Weed.

The conversation looked at the future of the media landscape, including the news that Vice will launch a TV channel in the UK later this year through a partnership with Sky. The channel, Viceland, is already broadcasting in the US and Vice is planning a total of 12 channels in Europe over the next year.

Vice, which is best known for its edgy news website Vice.com, has built up a huge following among the current generation of young people known as millennials or Gen Y. This has turned the site into a big draw for advertisers, which develop native content in partnership with Vice. In December, investors valued the media company at $4bn (£2.8bn).

Smith argued that the rise of ad blocking, digital video recorders and online streaming services like Netflix are forcing brands to find new ways of reaching audiences beyond conventional advertising.

“A lot of lip service was paid in the past to not calling a brand a client, but calling it a partner,” he said. “Well you really have to partner now – and when I say partner I mean partner at the production level, because I don’t think it works otherwise.

“Young people have grown up with ad-free content and so visionary brands are saying ‘I get that and we’re going to interweave and be part of the process’.”

Shane Smith, CEO, Vice Media

Smith said Vice takes a “platform-agnostic” approach to creating content, which has included developing content for new virtual reality (VR) systems.

“Somebody is going to come up with the iPhone of VR and what we’re saying is we want to have a repository of music, fashion, cooking and news stories [tailored to VR] so that when the take-up happens, we can populate it with our content,” he said.

Read the full discussion between Vice Media CEO Shane Smith and Unilever CMO Keith Weed here.

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