The True Vice of Vice: Advertisers with Editorial Input
Besides selling banner displays and short ads that play before its videos, Vice offers its advertisers the option of funding an entire project in exchange for being listed as co-creator and having editorial input. Advertisers can pay for a single video, or, for a higher price—one to five million dollars for twelve episodes, according to Vice—they can pay for an entire series, on a topic that dovetails with the company’s image. (The North Face, the outdoors company, recently sponsored a series called “Far Out,” in which Vice staffers visit people living in “the most remote places on Earth.”)
At the highest end of the sponsorship spectrum are verticals, in which companies can sponsor entire Web sites. If you go to Vice’s main site, Vice.com, you’ll see the weird, ribald material that defines its brand (“New York Fashion Week . . . On Acid!,” “India’s Street Doctors Will Bleed the Sickness Right Out of You”). Tabs at the top connect to Web sites on single subjects: Motherboard, which focusses on technology; Fightland (ultimate fighting); and Noisey (music). The content on these sites is sponsored by companies such as Garnier, Toshiba, and Scion. Vice’s sponsored verticals tend to be in softer areas, like music and art. As Smith said, “Crest doesn’t want to be next to severed heads.”
Smith describes sponsored content as a return to the soap-opera model of early television: “It’s ‘As the World Turns,’ sponsored by Procter & Gamble. And you’re going to do that show anyway. And Procter & Gamble just sort of fits in.” But when I spoke to Spencer Baim, Vice’s chief strategic officer and the head of Virtue, its in-house advertising agency, he pointed out that mere sponsorship has become “a dirty word” among advertisers. “Being a sponsor is just slapping your logo on something and not being strategic about it,” he said. Instead, he added, sponsored content should represent something “fresh”—a true creative collaboration between Vice and its advertiser.
Almost nothing about Vice appeals to me. I'm not their demographic (male: 18-34), but even when I was their demographic I wasn't, because I hated this kind of shit. Widdicombe accurately calls the sensibility “adolescent, male and proudly boorish.” It's actually worse. It's part of the downfall.
It's not hip. It's sponsored.