Vice Media sales and marketing director Jamie Brewer says his team has an internal mantra they try to apply regardless of what type of content they’re producing.
“We always tell each other, ‘don’t be shitty,’” he says.
“So whenever we produce work, whether its editorial, branded or co-branded, we do the litmus test of asking: ‘if an external brand did this for us, would we think it was good?’”
He says this is a good way of determining whether the work coming out of the organisation is something they can be proud of.
“If you take your brand hat off and think about yourself, it quickly becomes clear what’s compelling,” Brewer says.
Recently, Vice has had to put this approach to the test in the local market as part of a branded content campaign developed for Tokyo Dry.
Playing out as three short documentaries, the content-led campaign features a Kiwi chef, tattoo artist and illustrator heading abroad and engaging with their career counterparts in Japan.
So far, Vice has released the first two clips on its website and distributed them through social media.
The first is a classic fish-out-of-water narrative, with Kiwi chef Josh Barlow cooking alongside chef Nori Tsugawa in the heart of Tokyo.
Nothing about it feels like a conventional Kiwi beer ad. There’s no confident guy sipping on his beer and winning at life. On the contrary, there’s an uncertainty and awkwardness about Barlow as he comes to grips with cooking in a foreign country with tools that are foreign to him.
Barlow’s response to the environment doesn’t seem that far removed from how the average Kiwi millennial might respond to the circumstances—and Brewer says this is definitely intentional.
“The Vice style requires a level of truth to the overall execution. If it’s not authentic, the millennial audience will see through it immediately.”
The second clip, released yesterday, also veers away from conventional beer ad protagonists, but takes a slightly different, almost didactic approach.
It features Tā Moko artist Paitangi Ostick comparing her tattoo techniques with those of Tebori (traditional Japanese tattoo) artist Megumu Kamata.
While the chef clip was about showing a Kiwi out of his depth, this one takes a more sombre approach and focuses on connecting two disparate cultures.
Brewer says that Vice doesn’t use scripted scenes, and rather develops story themes (such as a pair of tattoo artists coming together) that allow for authentic conversations to happen.
“With that approach you often get those little gems [as people interact],” he says.
In an industry based on meticulous planning, long-winded sign-off processes and marketers desperate to protect their brands, Brewer admits that this laissez-faire approach to communications can be difficult for some to embrace.
This reluctance on the part of marketers is somewhat understandable, given that brand messaging can become disjointed if too many different hands are adding flavour to the cocktail.
However, Brewer says that these issues can be avoided at the briefing stage, if brand strategists (Lion and DDB in this case) outline clear objectives for the campaign.
“DDB, Lion and ZenithOptimedia were all very involved with the pitching process,” says Brewer.
“There was zero stepping on toes and everyone was very clear in terms of which part of the jigsaw puzzle they contributed. DDB launched the above-the-line campaign, Vice produced the content-led campaign to consolidate the brand’s positioning, and ZenithOptimedia pulled it all together.”
That said, Brewer describes this level of collaboration as something of a rarity, and says there is still a tendency in the industry to stick to the tried and tested advertising approach.
“We can only get work like this off the ground, if the people on the receiving end get it,” he says. “And there are still a few marketers out there who don’t get it and don’t see the value of it.”
For now, Vice can only hope that Tokyo Dry starts flying off the shelves. Because in this industry, good sales numbers remain the best way to convert non-believers.