Authenticity, believability, and credibility are keys to Butter.ATL, an unconventional new local media brand capturing the culture of Atlanta


By Mike Mocklar, LMA guest contributor 

The first clue you are about to experience a non-traditional local media brand should be the name: Butter.ATL.

“We were brainstorming different names and ‘butter’ came up,” said Brandon Butler, executive director of Butter. “Butter spreads, it goes on everything, and it just felt right for media company dedicated to the culture of Atlanta.”

The next clue is where you should look to get the full Butter experience. To Instagram, where the brand has grown from zero to more than 40,000 followers in just over a year.

“We wanted to create something that was relevant for the modern content consumer — the person who probably grew up either using Facebook in college or they might’ve been using it in high school, using tools like Instagram — that understands social,” Butler said.

Then there is the local content itself. Festival information is delivered via colorful graphic flow charts. Viewer polls are phrased in the form of a Jeopardy-type answers, such as “The Funniest Person in ATL” or “Atlanta’s Best DJ,” inviting audience feedback. Bright, colorful, young and diverse, Butter aims to be “Atlanta’s Culture Channel,” and to feel like Atlanta feels.

“Our definition of culture is ‘people like us do things like this,’” Butler said. “And so in a very simple way, Butter is just looking for interesting content around the people, places and things that make Atlanta such a unique city.”

Brandon Butler

Butter’s creation story and entry into the local Atlanta media market is also unconventional. It was conceived by Dagger, an Atlanta creative and content strategy agency, as a way to show clients the value of thinking like a modern media company to stay relevant.

“Gone are the days of ‘you’ve only got your 30-second spot, your print ad, and your website,’” said Mike Popowski, CEO of Dagger. “I always use the example of Red Bull. [It] came to be in the modern era by not acting like a traditional advertiser, but by creating and producing and curating culturally relevant experiences, edu-tainment, value.”

“We didn’t want to be the agency that just says things and has a philosophy,” he said. “How do we actually prove that? And so we funded the launch of Butter as the budding media company.”

The decision to initially focus Butter towards a single platform, Instagram, was intentional, both as a way to reach the site’s target audience of polycultural 18- to 34-year-olds, and to make the most of limited resources.

“I feel like Instagram, in its launch phase and Butter’s launch phase was probably the shortest distance between two points,” Popowski said. “We had the muscles in-house to be able to create that kind of content versus maybe [on] YouTube where there’s longer-form content that was a bigger lift and a bigger investment.”

Butter’s editorial content is primarily created by a team of four, including Butler, with additional contributions from the Dagger agency. The focus is on making Butter.ATL connect with its Atlanta audience. 

“I really believe in order for any brand to be successful, in order for any kind of content to really resonate, you have to kind of follow the ABC’s; and that’s authenticity, believability and credibility,” Butler said. “We decided to take this really intentional POV on Atlanta. It’s so unique and it’s just such a unique culture that it was an opportunity to create something for the city.”

“Having worked in marketing for a long time, I’ve seen many situations where you can tell the results of the research and strategy was basically, somebody just did a Google search about something and whatever showed up on the front page results is what basically ended up manifesting,” Butler said. “So for us it was, how do you actually go deeper? How do you do things with nuance but intentionally communicate those codes out and let people know [that] because we’re highlighting this specific place or this person, it’s credible and authentic. Because any other media outlet would’ve looked right past that person and gone to the first search result on Google.”

Butter’s position as a local media brand created by a privately held agency has also allowed it to pursue a more patient monetization strategy.

Mike Popowski

“We’ve always said we never wanted to infuse monetization at the risk of the consumer experience. That was always paramount,” Popowski said. “If we just started paid posts and things like that which were obtrusive or felt like Butter sold out, we didn’t want to do that.”

“I think where media companies and businesses and people get tripped up is thinking about it in terms of bringing the business hat instead of the consumer hat,” Popowski said. “If I was out in the world, what would I want to consume?”

“Businesses are always ‘How are we going to make money off this?’ And that was never the conversation. Making money off it has been the nice byproduct from having the conversation of, “How do we create something awesome that people want to want to enjoy?'”

Butter.ATL is planning an editorial expansion, including building out podcast and video studios to allow the brand to grow onto new platforms. It has also begun monetizing its product. It is co-sponsoring events around the city. A local brewery is sponsoring Butter’s “Atlannapedia” franchise, which spells out Atlanta’s culture one letter at a time.

“(Butter’s) actually becoming an influencer, a bonafide influencer,” Popowski said. “We’re actually doing brand partnership deals. For us, it’s just getting going. We’re just getting tailwind on it.”

Given its growth and unique position, Butter.ATL offers four key lessons for other local media organizations:
• Put the customer experience first
• Make sure your content is unique and authentic
• Focus on one platform and do it well
• Think long term

About the Author
Mike Mocklar is president and chief creative officer of Mocklar Consulting, an innovative content strategy and production company based in Atlanta, GA. A Peabody and duPont award-winning producer, Mocklar developed The Southern Weekend lifestyle initiative for Raycom Media, which included a television series, broadcast, social media and digital distribution, sponsored content production, and the creation of a central website and 27 local digital franchises. He also oversaw Raycom’s Digital Content Center, which produced and distributed 24/7 national news and lifestyle content to its stations. Previously, Mocklar was an executive producer at CNN in program and talent development, documentary and long-form programming, and sports

On occasion, LMA will invite guest authors to contribute articles to share about local media business and innovation. To learn more or contribute to the LMA blog, contact us at info@nulllocalmedia.org.