BuzzFeed: These 2 Trends Are the Future of Branded Content

By Amanda Walgrove September 8th, 2014

It’s no longer fair to reduce BuzzFeed to a circus site of cat videos and listicles—and it hasn’t been for a while now. The Internet’s viral-content darling has been publishing hard-hitting reported news for years now, having built up an editorial team of over 200 journalists. What was the motivation behind this expansion? While it’s easy to say BuzzFeed wanted to grow its audience and boost its cred with more “serious” content (which it surely did), there was also a more lucrative light at the end of the tunnel: native advertising, the publication’s primary revenue source.

BuzzFeed’s executive vice president of business operations, Eric Harris, told the American Press Institute just that in a recent interview.

“Some brands that were reluctant to work with us in the past because they saw us solely as a humorous pop culture site, now take us more seriously and allocate bigger budgets to their partnerships with BuzzFeed,” Harris said, pointing to successful partnerships with major companies, such as GE, Geico, and P&G.

Some may say BuzzFeed wrote the book on shareable content, but the very nature of the social web means that those rules change every day. Understanding that is what makes BuzzFeed so successful.

“Even though we’ve been doing native advertising for over four years and have run more than 1,000 programs, we’re still constantly learning, experimenting and improving our offerings and services,” Harris said. “To date, we have already worked with over two-thirds of the top 100 brands across every vertical.”

In fact, in extending their native ad arm, Harris said, BuzzFeed is looking to invest in the two most major trends that will decide the future of brand publishing: mobile and video.

“On mobile, which is now more than 50 percent of our traffic and growing, I think native advertising is really the only monetization strategy that’s working right now,” Harris said.

“On mobile, which is now more than 50 percent of our traffic and growing, I think native advertising is really the only monetization strategy that’s working right now,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed’s partnership with Friskies for their “Dear Kitten” commercial has earned over 15 million views on YouTube and is one of the most successful brand videos to date.

While audience engagement is always priority in native advertising, BuzzFeed still needs to find a way to sell native ads while also making sure that the client is happy. Naturally, the famously data-driven publisher has systems and metrics set up to evaluate just that.

“Currently, most of our programs have been sold on a CPM (cost per thousand impression) basis where the advertiser is charged for the media to promote the social advertising content that BuzzFeed creates with them,” Harris noted. “That said, we are always evaluating and testing different pricing models as we introduce new products (i.e., branded video) to the market.”

And by leveraging its robust social distribution channels, BuzzFeed has the machinery to get the word out. “Overall, BuzzFeed brand customers see an average lift of 55 percent in brand affinity and 88 percent in purchase intent from our custom social content across our Nielsen Online Brand Effect studies,” Harris said.

For many publishers making the dive into native, those numbers are enviable, but they shouldn’t be rare. Give a targeted audience something so good that they’ll be compelled to share it, and you’ll reap the rewards.

“We work with our clients to create engaging content that communicates the attributes and aspirations that the brand wants to be associated with,” Harris said, “and less successful programs are often the result of forced or too much branding diluting the human element of the content.”

Or, of course, the cat element.

Image by William B. Plowman
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