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You might recognize VICE Media from their, at times outrageous documentaries or you may have seen the VICE episode of Documentary Now, a comical mockumentary series. This digital media broadcasting company has even inspired viral internet content in the form of a VICE Headline Generator.
As much as the internet might love to mock them, it’s worth noting that the success of the viral headline generator relies on the broad recognition of VICE style articles, with VICE itself apparently leaning into the phenomenon. The headlines are comical because you can almost imagine the articles that go along with them.
What about VICE’s branding strategy has made them so recognizable? Where are they planning to take their brand?
Creating a Profile
Within the ktMINE Profiles App, you can use the company tree feature (or hand-curated lists of companies) to view combined IP profiles.
Based on the above search, VICE’s most recent trademark filing was “DOPESICK NATION” the name of a VICELAND television show. The application has a filing date of August 31, which is before the show was released. The application was filed under US classes 100 – Miscellaneous, 101 – Advertising and Business, and 107 – Education and Entertainment specifically for:
“Entertainment services in the nature of ongoing audio-visual programs featuring subjects of general human interest provided via television, satellite, and digital audio and video transmission over wired and wireless networks; entertainment services, namely, providing online non-downloadable audio and visual recordings featuring subjects of general human interest; providing a website featuring entertainment information”
A Unique Approach
It is interesting that VICE Media chose to trademark Dopesick Nation before the show even aired. As a counterpoint, the first trademark for The Big Bang Theory, whose season finale last year drew 12.6 million viewers was filed two years after the show initially aired. It is also interesting that VICE decided to file a trademark for the show itself in the Dopesick Nation filing rather than for merchandise. For instance, there are many Game of Thrones trademark filings, but most are for products like Game of Thrones lip balm or a line of wines. The VICE trademark was filed for use on TV and on a website.
These two choices might be explained by VICE’s branding strategy. VICE isn’t just a production company or just a news outlet. Though some view VICE as the super edgy problem child of the news media world, VICE might actually be considered a lifestyle brand if a lifestyle brand is defined as “a brand that attempts to embody the values, aspirations, interests, attitudes, or opinions of a group or a culture for marketing purposes.” VICE aspires to be the television station you watch, the news you read, and the beer you drink.
Who is VICE?
If VICE is a lifestyle brand, what lifestyle does it embody? Who does VICE appeal to? The general tenor of the words, phrases, and product/service names that they choose as trademarks can serve as a clue. VICE was able to grow early on and continue growing by promising advertisers access to the millennial demographic. Some of their edgier trademarks such as “STATES OF UNDRESS,” “FLOPHOUSE,” and “BLACK MARKET” suggest that they are still attempting to resonate with a segment of youth that identifies with the countercultural roots of VICE magazine. Other trademarks such as “WEEDIQUETTE”, “BONG APPETIT,” and “MUNCHIES” indicate that they target a demographic that either participates in or understands references to contemporary drug culture.
An Unholy Union
Beyond trademarks, lifestyle brands rely on building a loyal community of consumers who engage with the brand. This is often done by targeting consumers who aspire to the lifestyle embodied by the brand through curated internet, social media, and advertising content.
Perhaps in order to strengthen its ability to compete in this space, VICE acquired Carrot Creative back in 2013. Carrot Creative is the digital marketing firm behind the Evaus campaign where Suave trolled social media influencers by telling them that regular Suave shampoo (which is one of the cheapest shampoos around and probably the brand your grandma uses) was actually Evaus, the hot new must-have. After the acquisition Carrot Creative first worked on marketing for VICE as well as continuing to sell services as a digital agency. They were later merged into Virtue, VICE’s official creative arm.
A New Direction
It’s worth asking whether VICE has succeeded in reaching the hip young demographic that it purports to. According to an article from Intelligencer, the average age of VICELAND viewers is actually 42, not exactly a member of the millennial generation. In addition, VICE’s website traffic is down from 78 million unique visitors as measured in December of 2017 to only 27 million in September of this year, and VICE missed revenue projections by more than 100 million dollars last year. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising. VICE was targeting the same demographic and a similar ethos in 1994 when it was founded. The tail end of the 18-34 demographic in 1994 is now 58.
These difficulties have led to some big changes at VICE. A new CEO, Nancy Dubuc, replaced Shane Smith in March. She instituted a hiring freeze and plans to downsize by 10 to 15 percent of employee headcount. VICE media also plans to focus more on television and film, a move that could steer its image away from that of an outsider or an edgy new model for the media conglomerate. The ultimate goal for a company seeking to scale with an edgy new brand would be to cultivate the kind of recognition and hype that VICE has enjoyed over the past eight years without some of the pitfalls that it has stumbled into.