From the May 28, 2009 New York Times, a piece on Vice Inc as corporate ad agency surrogate and “brand presence” distributor, masquerading as independent magazine/tv/media producer:
The Vice and the Virtue of Marketing
By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
As publications continue to struggle or fold because of dwindling advertising revenues, one is thriving by selling not just ad space, but entire marketing campaigns.
Vice magazine has its own antonymous agency, Virtue, which serves as an advertising firm, Web site developer and branding partner. In what may rankle media traditionalists who favor a bright line between advertising and editorial, Virtue’s approach includes using editorial staff at Vice to help develop marketing plans for clients.
…To that end, for its current campaign for Alli, the sports alliance that is a joint venture between NBC and MTV, Virtue built a Web site that features short documentaries about skateboarders and BMX bike riders who compete in the Dew Tour, sponsored by Mountain Dew, a PepsiCo brand.
Rather than trumpeting Alli, the networks, or the soft drink, the videos highlight the competitors’ backgrounds, aiming to engage even those with little interest in skateboards or BMX bikes.
Virtue also produced a 30-second spot featuring those same competitors airborne and silhouetted against a wall of lights. The ad made its debut on May 10 on networks including NBC, MTV, Comedy Central and ESPN.
“We wanted to make these athletes look like rock stars, so we made in essence a rock video,” said Spencer Baim, founder of Virtue, of the spot, which was directed by Warren Fischer, of the band Fischerspooner.
…For Red Bull, the energy drink, Virtue produces a series of videos hosted on VBS.TV called “School of Surf,” about high school surfing team competitions that are themselves sponsored by the beverage, whose logo figures prominently in the footage. …
Mr. Baim said that while agencies typically circulate a client brief to a few copywriters and an art director to generate advertising concepts, at Virtue, he confers with any number of Vice’s 480 international employees, most on the content rather than the business side
“The process at an advertising agency — and for the most part the process works — is you do research, you understand the customer, you get an insight, and that insight is translated into creative,” Mr. Baim said, referring to the idea that is taken back to the client. Virtue, however, avoids focus groups and turns to the young writers and filmmakers plugging away at Vice, who presumably are a microcosm of clients’ target market.
“I have just been amazed at how they come up with ideas that are on-brand,” Mr. Baim said.