Vox’s Recipe for Video Success

Recently I had the pleasure to hang out with Joe Posner, Executive Producer at Vox. During his keynote at MEG17 he explained Vox’s recipe for video success which is worth sharing.

In an era where many media companies and well as brand marketers are struggling to work out what a success in a digital world looks like, Vox Media and its 8 editorial brands each stand out as modern media companies, free from legacy products and business models which are well positioned to profit in the digital future.

Vox, the news and opinion website founded in 2014 by Melissa Bell and former Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein is leading the charge  with its concept of explanatory journalism. 

This is the team that Joe has worked with since the beginning and it’s success lays in delivering on its editorial mission to “go deeper” whilst also engaging it’s growing audience base on the channel of their choice.

Vox Media’s video in numbers

Across the Vox media portfolio the numbers are impressive. These numbers are from their 2016 annual report but show their success in capturing engaged eyeballs.


Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 12.40.23.png

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 11.55.54.png

The interesting development is their success with both traffic directly to their site as well as the incredible growth on the all important channels of Facebook and Youtube.

The subscription commitment of 3.5 million Youtube users is worthy of particular praise in my book and no doubt they are benefiting from the Facebook algorithm priority for video which is dominating todays fight for attention from both media and brands.

Aesthetics V Explanation

One of the keys to the success of Vox video is getting the balance right between the aesthetics of the film and the explanation of the story.

Joe shared with the audience at MEG17 the Aesthetics v Explanation Axis that they use for video production. This I believe is a tool that every company should use when they look at creating video assets and ask that all important question – what is this imagery actually giving us versus the explanation we are giving in the voice over.


Every video project I have been involved with has always struggled with getting that balance right between these two aspects.

Film makers in my experience always put the aesthetic first whilst the copywriter / journalist types want to hit it out of the park with the script and  voiceover. The balance between the two is the critical success factor.

Nothing new here then but recognising that some forms of visuals such as B-roll have low aesthetic value versus assets like talking heads is important.

But how good are talking heads at explaining a topic? Would a good data visualisation be actually better at achieving the explanation goal in any given video.

It’s these type of questions that your creative teams should be arguing over.

Answer an interesting question

Ultimately, as Joe describes in our video interview good Vox video’s focus on answering that key journalistic question of Why.

Of course you need to get to the other aspects of any good story such as who, what, when and how but the most important question is Why.

Make sure that question is top of mind when you are producing your content and is stated and answered as early on in the film as possible.

If in doubt tell a story about the human body

Joe was asked that question beloved of both media execs and brand marketers; How do you make a video go viral?

Hi answer was surprising but is borne out in data. Its simple he said, produce a video about the human body. We are all fascinated by the working of the human body and every time we do a film about some aspect of that it generally a so called viral hit.

And Vox’s top performing video on Youtube entitled, Proof of evolution that you can find on your body proves this analysis to be true. Over 26 million views can’t be wrong.

Team work & personal obsessions

One of Joe’s closing comments centred around the production of video content that really aligned with a personal obsession of one of the editorial team.

If employees are given enough freedom to unleash their personal obsessions on the content that they create, truly engaging videos will be the result of that trust which is given to them buy their editorial leaders.

One of the best quotes I have seen about the future of both video, media, marketing and a companies ability to stay competitive through creativity comes from Vox’s own publisher Melissa Bell. Essentially it focuses on the importance of teamwork.

“Great videos don’t emerge from the ether, or from a desire to make more money from higher advertising rates. Great videos emerge out of great journalism, a great creative culture, and deep collaboration with creators of many different kinds.”

But one important final lesson from Vox is that they do not make videos by committee.

Teamwork is crucial in the production process but ultimately there is one creative director and whatever they say goes. I wish I had this insight when working on video projects in the past, I will remember this for the future.

If you haven’t checked out the Vox experience yet I encourage you to do it. From gun crime to human biology and from Isis to North Korea, Vox has a video story which will make you more informed on the issue and hopefully inspire you to create great video content.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s