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DME: Making advertising social: BuzzFeed’s Andy Wieldin

If content can be social, advertising can be too: this is the premise on which BuzzFeed’s revenue model is based. BuzzFeed makes 100 percent of its revenue from sponsored content, which Chief Revenue Officer Andy Wiedlin described at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe 2013 as a more effective way for advertisers to connect with audiences, compared with traditional display ads.

by WAN-IFRA Staff executivenews@wan-ifra.org | April 15, 2013

Social sharing is an increasingly powerful force. “People share things that make them look clever and cool. They are building their own personal brands,” Wiedlin said. That’s why they come to BuzzFeed: to find this content, and this is something that advertisers should try to take advantage of.

Banner ads are disruptive and can’t be shared: subsequently they are ignored and hated, Wiedlin said. “If you’re an advertiser, stop interrupting people and create content that they actually like,” he advised. “For the first time you can do word-of-mouth marketing.”

Social ads have much higher engagement: BuzzFeed’s sponsored content has a 2 to 3 per cent click through rate, Wiedlin said. And the fact that this ad content can be shared, and often is, means that advertisers often end up getting more exposure than they pay for.

To be successful, however, the content must be engaging. Social ads should tell a story, involve people emotionally and not be heavy handed, Wiedlin advised: treat it like a TV ad.

He urged people to think “Does this content pass the Facebook test?” In other words, would you want to see it in your Facebook feed? If the answer is no, then don’t do it.

BuzzFeed creates content for its advertising clients: it has a creative team that works separately from its editorial team. Many clients come prepared with ideas, but often these need to be changed as brands are used to talking at people, rather than getting them to engage and share, Wiedlin said.

The longer that BuzzFeed works with advertisers, the more interesting the initiatives that emerge, for example incorporating “always on” marketing – something like Oreo’s “you can still dunk in the dark” ad during the Superbowl power outage – and “planned spontaneity” – in other words, being ready for different outcomes that are likely to happen.

Revenue from this kind of content marketing is higher than traditional banner ad CPMs, and several publishers are trying it. It can be difficult to start, Wiedlin said, because publishers are used to banner ads and the money they bring in. “Banners are like crack, and it’s hard to say no to crack,” he added. It also means a total shift in thinking from the target, to the content, Wiedlin said. “We spend a lot less time thinking how to target and a lot more thinking what people are sharing,” he said.

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