How Viceland is building a bold TV brand: ‘Weed Week is our Shark Week’

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When it was set up two years ago, Viceland was a surprising proposition: a TV channel born from an online news channel. The move was a surprise only because the media narrative was that traditional media ‘was dying’ as a result of continued digital disruption.

Nonetheless, Viceland found an audience that wasn’t being served. It offered a unique tone of voice and took a look at a variety of lifestyle topics such as sex, drugs, music, culture. It offered a birdseye view of what it means to be a part of today’s world. That is certainly the focus that its senior director of marketing, Michele Beno has taken in promoting and building the brand.

Whether it is Action Bronson and his crew travelling around the world casually consuming intricate food, or Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page and Ian Daniel on Gaycation going shining a light on inspirational LGBTQ people, the media brand has found its niche in the market.

Speaking to The Drum in Austin at SXSW from the Viceland bus, a crucial part of the channel’s activation strategy across the US (boasting a paddock of cute goats), Beno is confident the Emmy-winning channel continues to strengthen its ties with its audiences.

“At SXSW, everything is exclusive or badge-only and you always need to be on a list or checked-in. Our bus is a very open, communal space. We’re really about being open and having a conversation around our audience and that is the brand you see on the channel and you see in our marketing. We’re having a conversation with our audience and we want them to feel like they are a part of us, there’s are no rules in this space. That is a metaphor for our brand as well. We want people to feel like when they come into a space like this, that they feel invited in and welcomed,” Beno explains of the activation strategy.

“That conversation has amplified and has become more defined. In the marketplace we’ve gotten a lot recognition for that; for our tone, for our voice and for our brand love, for our experiences and it’s nice that we are getting that recognition in a space that is very cluttered. There are so many around who have been doing this forever and for a new player to come onto the scene and get those kind of accolades, particularly around the marketing and the programming, it feels good that people are taking notice.”

Another surprising move, that in this day and age maybe seen as unconventional, is the use of a telephone number on the back of the bus. It encouraged the audience to call and leave voicemail comments about Viceland content.

“In our brand book there is a line that has always resonated with me; that we’re ‘premium basic’ when it comes to the look and feel of our channel. And this voicemail is so basic but it’s premium. We do a lot of things that are very analogue. We are not aiming to be the slickest guys out there – we definitely go back to the basic analogue ways of connecting with our audience.”

Vice’s use of experiential is hugely important to Beno, who cites the success of the goats at the festival as a strong example of how can reach people from a range of backgrounds.

“In a time when a lot of brands are scaling back their experiential activations at SXSW, we are still out here. We saw that with a lot of brands who have previously been at SXSW are not here this year and we feel it’s important to connect with our audience and we do that in a number of ways, it’s not just experiential. The phone number is a great way, anyone who has had Viceland like their post – we are very active in engaging with our audience on social. They will say ‘Thank you’ to someone for responding and a lot of brands don’t do that, they don’t have that personal interaction. The activity all comes from the brand and they don’t engage with their community.”

The age of the audience skews young for television, at 40 on average, however it also attracts viewers from between 25-35 such is the diverse nature of the Viceland output. Hispanics in particular are widely attracted to the channel, reveals Beno.

“What we see when we go to different events and we look at the composition of the audience for the channel, we see that it is a very diverse group. That’s so important to us.”

Viceland, like most media brands, is also adept at working with brands, and has recently completed the second series of Beerland, which is has been creating for Golden Road Brewing while it has also worked with GE in hosting its content around Drone Week last year.

“Viceland has that cool factor,” states Beno in explaining why brands like to work with the channel. “We are reaching a younger audience. The content that we have is not what you see on other networks that are more youth targeted. The fact that we have that conversation with our audience and we reach them on a personal level – our content can be very personal to people. At the same time it is still a destination network, it’s the kind of network where you can come and stay for a while.”

The channel has attended some major political rallies in the last two years, most recently the March for Our Lives, stemming back to the Women’s March in Washington in 2016 where it parked the bus visibly at the front of the crowd and interviewed demonstrators in order to relay their viewpoints.

“We had all this incredible content through the bus, and we put that content together on air so our audience can see that we’re not a passive network, we’re actively participating in the conversation as a network, not just covering it, which is important. You see a lot of media coverage but you don’t see as much participation. We won an Emmy for that content which was an incredible moment for us as a network and now we think how we can use the bus and participate in other initiatives that we feel are important to us but also to our audience.”

Coming up in April meanwhile will be the second year of Weed Week, which Beno describes as the biggest week of the year for Viceland; “It’s our Shark Week” she proclaims. Vice’s Weed Week content always hones in on weed-related topics, a full marketing campaign across TV, out-of-home, social and experiential has been introduced to ensure it is a continued success in 2018. Furthermore, special episodes have been created, including a show around the definitive stoner movies.

Beno concludes: “We have filled in a space that people were yearning for in TV and we help voices be heard and tell stories that aren’t be told. People want that. Some of our content has a more serious tone while some is lighter, but what you see as a whole in Viceland is what people want to hear.”

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