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Cannes Lions: Vice CEO talks about TV, media and breaking rules

CANNES, France – The session last week at the Cannes Lions ad festival featuring two Vice executives was at standing room-only capacity.

One of the panelists, Vice founder/CEO Shane Smith, was named Cannes Lions 2016 Media Person of the Year earlier this year. Spike Jonze, co-president of Viceland, a Vice TV channel, joined him in a spirited discussion on how Vice operates.

Mr. Smith transformed Vice from a print magazine into an international multimedia brand that operates a network of critically acclaimed digital channels, linear television networks, a mobile content studio, a feature film division and an in-house creative services agency.

But let me segue.

Russian bare
Sometimes the people that you sit next to at Cannes Lions are as interesting as the speakers.

I asked the person next to me why she was attending the Vice session. She is Ukrainian and said that Vice was the only media outlet that was reporting accurately and in real time about the events in Ukraine.

And she said unlike other media outlets, Vice reporters speak both Russian and Ukrainian and are fearless and relentless in finding the truth.

Vice presented the real story of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. She was there to pay tribute to Vice and to support their efforts.

Mr. Jonze was asked about the people that he hires at Vice and said “we hire people who we think are smart and who have young minds whether they are young or not.

“We hired Gloria Steinem whose mind is younger than many of ours,” he said. “We let them make things that they care about.”

Mr. Smith said that Vice does not have the red tape of other organizations.

“We just pilot it and fix it if it doesn’t resonate,” he said. “We try and we are not afraid of failure and if it doesn’t work we learn from it.

“An example of a program that did not work initially is ‘Vice Does America,’ which we launched in Russia. It didn’t work in Russia, so Vice brought it to the U.S. for this election year and it is a hit.”

Ads up
Mr. Smith was asked about advertising on Vice.

“It doesn’t scare advertisers because they know they have to reach a millennial audience,” he responded.

Millennials generally do not consume news like other demographic groups.

The executive talked about some of Vice’s groundbreaking journalism and its critics.

“When we got the story on ISIS or the North Korean stories with Dennis Rodman, the critics didn’t talk about the stories, they talked about did they [Vice] do it the right way,” Mr. Smith said.

“We didn’t do it the way they did it, so therefore it wasn’t real journalism,” he said.

“All they are doing is criticizing us, which I guess is a good thing. We used our information to get into North Korea, which is a very difficult place to enter.

“Vice is a challenger brand and we are going to come up with something different. We are not going to play by the usual rules because we don’t want to be limited.”

Dan Hodges is managing director of Consumers in Motion Group, a New York-based strategic consultancy offering business, marketing, and technology services. He is also head of the New York chapter of the Location Based Marketing Association. Reach him at [email protected]