Murdoch + Vice = Branded Content Bros
News Corp’s Wall Street Journal announced this week that it was launching a new “content division,” called “WSJ. Custom Studios.” As Capital New York relayed on Monday, the new service is being pitched as “an innovative, intelligent and flexible suite of capabilities that will help market-leading brands develop even deeper relationships with their clients and our readers.” Translation: branded content.
In the hands of the Journal, what will this actually look like? For instance, Buzzfeed, pioneer of this type of thing, features a piece today entitled “13 Reasons High School Was Harder Than It Needed to Be,” presented by “partner” Mabelline Baby Lips. Will the Journal have, say, “13 Tips for Investing,” presented by Merrill Lynch? (Joe Pompeo’s Capital New York piece reports, “The project will include twelve articles starting March 11 that focus on game-changing technology and data,” which shouldn’t be surprising.)
Another one of News Corp’s properties, Vice Media, is already an #innovator in the branded-content game. Vice gets a lot of attention for, say, reporting live from Kiev or, like, taking pictures of ladies’ boobs in Times Square. But don’t forget what the real money-maker is. As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan recently noted,
VICE is now a company valued at over a billion dollars and partly owned by Rupert Murdoch. It should be thoroughly uncontroversial to point out the fact that its success is based on the neat trick of luring in cool young people with the promise of don’t-give-a-fuck edginess, and then selling those young people’s coolness to Intel, or Absolut, or any other large corporation that needs to buy that sort of coolness because, as a large global corporation, it cannot produce coolness on its own. All very ironic and run-of-the-mill.
Speaking of which, our current issue of The Baffler features an essay by Anne Elizabeth Moore chronicling the long and steamy bromance between Vice and News Corp. The two companies’ mutual love of branded content makes them a great team. Moore writes:
[The] payday-as-legitimate-media-enterprise structure is nakedly visible in Vice’s marketing arm, Virtue Worldwide. None of that joke-or-journalism stuff here: Virtue simply offers Vice Media up for sale. A blurb from Creativity Magazine explains, “The major selling point of Virtue . . . is that it already has a standing army of writers, photographers, artists and producers making cool stuff of their own, why not use them to tell your brand’s story?” Below this—although no fees are noted—are listed all the imaginable services that a multimedia company could provide. (Including entire news-like sites that consistently favor the client’s brand.) Also listed are capabilities such as “Focus Groups,” “Usability Studies,” “Experiential,” “Street-Level Network,” and “On-The-Street”—all fitting the general category of “Just Give Us Stuff To Hand Out To Our Cool Friends.”
But before you call it a revolution (or even just punk rock), check out a few of the companies on the roster of sponsors and partners: MTV, Intel, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), William Morris, Dell, media communications firm WPP, HBO, and media merchant bank The Raine Group. Vice Media is DIY only in the sense that forms for corporate control over content on this scale have not yet been invented, and about as “Fuck You” as a brand-new mass-produced T-shirt, available for $19.99 exclusively from Hot Topic. (Even this joke is stale; that’s how little authenticity Vice Media inspires.)
Read Moore’s essay, “The Vertically Integrated Rape Joke: The triumph of Vice,” in full here.