BuzzFeed has been gaining more attention for its ability to lure eyeballs with its funny animal pictures and more recently with its more serious editorial content. But equally impressive is the way the company is pushing the future of social advertising by helping create ads for advertisers that fit right at home inside BuzzFeed’s viral madhouse.
Jonah Peretti, the site’s co-founder who also helped start Huffington Post (s aol), spoke Tuesday at Ad Age’s Digital Conference about how BuzzFeed is helping usher in the transition from search to social. He said while people still worry about the line between editorial and advertising, he said the bigger distinction is now between advertising that sucks and ads that are engaging and are ripe for sharing.
“With younger consumers, it’s, ‘I want want advertising that I want to share or click, to engage with instead of advertising that forces me to watch it before I get what I want,'” Peretti said.
That insight is what drives BuzzFeed’s advertising efforts. The site doesn’t run banner ads but works with advertisers on ad units that are are positioned along with other social content. So every ad looks similar to a regular post, but appears in a different color and is marked with a partner tag. But the ad content is the kind of stuff that can go viral and build momentum from continued sharing. BuzzFeed President Steinberg told Bloomberg last month that revenue for this branded content tripled in 2011.
For example, BuzzFeed worked with Schick on a post on razorbombing, in which pictures of Schick razors appeared to be shaving the world. Doritos ran a post with BuzzFeed matching the different flavors of Doritos to other foods. Toyota had an ad looking at 20 cool hybrid animals to promote its Prius. General Electric, the top advertiser on BuzzFeed, ran a post with aerial views of huge industrial factories. In GE’s case, BuzzFeed found that 77 percent of people who encountered the GE brand through a social ad had a positive view of the company compared to 42 percent for a control group.
Peretti said every company has content: it’s just a matter of packaging it in a way that’s easy to share. But he said unlike the world of search, it’s not about gaming the search algorithms. The new world requires thinking like a human and understanding emotional intelligence.
“Having emotional intelligence is looking at a piece of content and asking, ‘Would I share this on my Facebook wall? If i shared it, would it make it me look like good person, smart or skeezy or like a jerk. Thinking like that is different,” Peretti said.
He said it’s still early days in the shift from search to social, but it is definitely real. Facebook and Twitter are both pursuing similar strategies, making ads that are more organic to their services. Facebook held a marketing event in February laying out new premium ads while encouraging advertisers to get more personal and creative with their ads. Even though it can be hard work for both advertisers and BuzzFeed, Peretti said it is ultimately where the market is moving.
“Increasingly advertising that feels native to the medium is going to win,” Peretti said.
That has implications for advertisers, who need to think more about what stories they can share with consumers. It’s not so much about buying keywords as creating conversations with users. That also has ramifications for Google (s goog), which has built a big business around placing ads against search results. Peretti said Google needs to be careful in its attempts to merge social with search because in many cases, people enjoy the privacy of their search experience and aren’t looking to open it up.
“Google should worry about breaking what makes search great by putting too many social features in it,” he said.