In the digital-social era of media, whoever rules the content owns the story. Mike Popowski, founder and CEO of Atlanta creative ad agency Dagger, points to the example of one of their clients: Red Bull. The energy drinks giant actually owns its own media house to produce magazines, films, documentaries and content that “gives you wings.”
To become top of mind with today’s informed and engaged consumers, modern brands win by not only appearing in the media, but creating it themselves.
“So if we believe that, how could we authenticate it?” Popowski poses. He wanted to use this strategy to set his own brand, Dagger, apart. He also wanted to elevate the agency in a city that has copious creative talent.
Out of that ambition and what Popowski phrases as a “restless discontent,” came what he believes is a new media model at the “nexus of authentic culture and modern execution.”
The “authentic culture” piece comes from the subject they chose: their hometown, Atlanta. In a city that has been branded by everyone from highbrow journalists to Silicon Valley titans as a cultural hub, Popowski notes that there is shockingly little original media produced by and for Atlantans.
And the “modern execution”? Well, at least for now, the entire publication, dubbed Butter.ATL, exists solely on Instagram.
The element of design is strong in Butter, which is displayed as an infinite scroll built from individual Instagram posts. Each “issue”, currently released once a week, focuses on a different topic.
The topics are varied, ranging from the silly — Atlanta’s obsession with chicken wings — to the culturally relevant — a brief history and primer on trap music — to the personal — profiles of nine different Atlanta artists.
Beyond the aesthetic, the content is genuinely informative. The Waffle House issue covers the history of the breakfast chain’s donations to political causes, for example. And every post weaves in a tongue-in-cheek humor and frank authenticity that gives the publication its voice.
Much of that voice comes from Butter’s Editor-in-Chief, Brandon Butler. Butler is an Atlanta native, but his background leading up to this role doesn’t follow a predictable path: a Georgia Tech MBA, Butler held roles at the large PR agency Edelman as well as Accenture.
Butler was serving as a project manager at Dagger when Poposki hired the initial team of content creators to begin the Butter project. He watched as, lacking in a clear direction, the project floundered.
Popowski remembers receiving a call from Butler, who simply said, “let me have it.” From then on, Butler has owned the project. It’s now his full-time role and he directs a team of full and part-time staff.
Along with creative direction, Butler has the final call on what issues the publication will tackle next. His biggest sticking point is that Atlanta’s story must be told from an insider. In a city as varied and diverse as it is sprawling, Butler’s aim is to cover topics that people in every neighborhood will care about.
That includes the experience of Atlanta transplants (one issue focuses on Buford Highway, Atlanta’s bastion of international food), black culture, and timely topics (the “Attack of the Birds” issue jests at the e-scooter craze-slash-menace storming the city).
“The definition of culture for us is, would people like us do things like this?” Butler tells Hypepotamus. The team uses Dagger’s workforce, about 50 and growing, as a barometer for that cultural relevancy. Dagger recently relocated to an office adjacent to the Atlanta Beltline, and much of their original content is set against the backdrop of the development project which, for good and bad, has transformed modern Atlanta.
The team also uses real Atlanta residents as subjects. “We’re trying to be intentional about including the people of Atlanta,” says Butler.
While right now Butter is bankrolled by Dagger, Butler and Popowski say they would consider looking at monetization and sponsorship down the line, though it’s not a big focus right now. Their big goals are to increase content — they’ll begin publishing two issues a week come 2019 — and growing the audience.
They’re both confident that the next year will bring steep growth. Popowski teases the possibility of longer-form video content, and Butler says they’re considering a podcast network of local podcasters.
“Everything seems reachable and possible at this point,” says Butler.
Check out Butter.ATL here.