Meet the Vox Creative Director Who Wants to Bring Whimsy Back to Branded Content

Graham Nelson aims to add the 'human' element to sponsored videos

Graham Nelson hopes his work goes beyond just walking viewers through a subject. Vox Creative
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It’s a good thing Graham Nelson has always liked explaining things.

In October, Vox Media expanded its branded content offerings with a new division, The Explainer Studio, to help brands communicate complicated ideas to the Vox Media audience. With Nelson as its creative director, the studio is in experienced and innovative hands.

“It doesn’t hurt that I went to law school and followed that with a few years working as a journalist,” Nelson said. “Breaking down complex ideas into new information is what I’ve been doing [all along], and now it’s for brands.”

Before attending George Washington University Law School in 2006, Nelson was one of the head teachers and co-founders of a school in Japan. The dedication to teaching lessons to his students across many age groups, combined with the research and rigor of law school, set him up for a career in branded content and strategy for HuffPost and AOL.

“I’ve always loved explaining things to people, and the team I work with now does it better than anybody,” he said. “But branded content doesn’t have to feel stale. It can be something special.”

Under Nelson’s lead, the new studio at Vox Media works with companies (like recent partner MailChimp) to create entertaining and informative videos that both fit the Vox Media audience and convey the brand’s message. MailChimp’s “second brain” technology for email campaigns, for example, is told through Nelson’s childhood fascination with dinosaurs and the rumor that they had another brain located in their hindquarters.

Vox Media’s explainer-style videos, which typically have a watch time of more than four minutes per branded explainer video, are perfectly designed for Nelson’s sensibilities.

Nelson hopes his work goes beyond simply walking viewers through a subject. He aims to reinvigorate seemingly mundane topics and introduce the lost element of whimsy back into branded content—and he wants The Explainer Studio’s branded content to remind viewers of what it’s like to let simple curiosity ignite a journey of exploration.

“A lot of branded content feels separated from the people who make it,” he said. “I want to bring the ‘human’ back into the process.”

Curriculum vitae

Creative director, Vox Media

Content strategy and creative director (freelance), Half Nelson Holdings

Senior content strategist, director of content strategy for news and men’s lifestyle, HuffPost

Producer, Tokyo Broadcasting System

Job profile

At The Explainer Studio, Nelson helps his team of writers, producers and editors create branded content videos that retain a sense of themselves within the content. As the creative director, Nelson, well, “leads them in a creative direction, which sounds obvious now that I say it.”

How he got the gig 

Before attending law school, Nelson spent some time in Japan as a teacher, where he also became the part-time mascot for the students. Yes, that means he had to dress up as a dinosaur on occasion. Whimsy? Check. From there, he created branded content campaigns at HuffPost and AOL. Using his voice to speak for brands? Check.

Bottom line

Nelson’s overall attitude lends a fresh take to branded content that he wishes other publications would adapt. He doesn’t think that “branded videos have to feel stale the way they often do.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 4, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.