Vice innovation chief: content must help us be the heroes our tribes need

The progression of digital technology has pulled people into "tribes" that content producers must learn to speak the language of, according to Mark Adams, senior vice-president and head of innovation at Vice.

Adams: said good storytelling adhered to the structure of the "hero's journey"
Adams: said good storytelling adhered to the structure of the "hero's journey"

Speaking yesterday [21 September] at One Vizeum, Adams said: "Tribes is what the internet has left us with – we’re not at personalisation yet, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that we are. But equally, we’re not at mass marketing either."

He introduced the topic after asking attendees to name the thing they were passionate about. After one audience member said she was passionate about techno music, Adams surveyed the crowd and discovered a number of other techno fans present.

"When you say techno, that’s a niche thing," Adams said. "This is a techno tribe, and when they get together they speak a load of gobbledegook where everybody else who’s not in the techno tribe has no fucking idea what they’re talking about."

The communication channels that were now available meant there was huge opportunity for content that embraced the cultural references, language and values of any given tribe, he added. "Within that tribe, the engagement around that conversation can keep going and going."

At the same time, the tribes we have found ourselves in had created the "madness of not understanding each other", Adams said.

"You can add to that the incessant technological change – we have to dance in this hurricane of digital. We have to download meditation apps to stay sane. Then you’ve got globalisation, winners and losers, the new economy, terrorism even."

Successful content, Adams said, resonates because it is able to help its chosen audience make sense of the world by telling them a story that says something about their own lives.  

Vice’s leap forward, Adams said, had come after it started working with film director Spike Jonze, who instilled in the media company the importance of storytelling, which Jonze describes as technology that "connects with the human operating system".

Vice had stopped using the word content, he said, "because it doesn’t mean anything".

Despite the shiny attraction of the increasingly diverse tech available, he urged the audience: "Don’t ever start with a format – it’s a trap.

"Seen any 360 videos you’ve really engaged with recently? No. Anyone give a fuck about VR? We hear every year that this will be the year of VR. I’m sorry, but it will never be the year of VR, because the storytelling is so shit, they don’t know what they’re doing."