Last week’s story in PR Daily asked a question that has the potential to change the face of social marketing: Is BuzzFeed the future of content marketing?
Man, I hope not.
Millions of Internet users fall down the BuzzFeed rabbit hole every day, clicking from post to post about fuzzy animals and numbered lists that help readers relive their childhoods or college years. And along the way, they’re treated to outright ads and stealthy product pitches, clever advertorials and clumsy clickbait. It’s a formula that’s still evolving, but it’s also wildly successful for BuzzFeed; CEO Jonah Peretti says that 100 percent of the site’s revenue comes from its “social content marketing,” and that the site stands to do more than 500 branded content campaigns this year. That’s a lot of brands taking advantage of BuzzFeed’s massive visitor base.
But if BuzzFeed is the future of content marketing, we’re all in trouble. Although a wide range of brands are taking advantage of the site’s captive audience, the possibility of a single site—or even a handful of sites—controlling how content is created and distributed could strangle what’s become an integral element of digital marketing: creativity.
The rise of the listicle
BuzzFeed’s articles are siren-like in their ability to keep users engaged and their shareability. But their list articles—or listicles—tend to take over the bulk of the content on the site. And brands take advantage of how easy it is to create a top 17 or best 34 list, simply scraping the Web for concepts, photos, and videos that will keep people scrolling to the end of the post. It doesn’t have anything to do with insurance, but who doesn’t like ice cream?
Brands like GEICO and Jim Beam are leveraging their visibility on the site with lists like these but, after a while, all listicles seem the same. And maybe that’s the point—BuzzFeed knows its audience and knows that users will read and share a good list, regardless of the brand attached to it. But it’s a lazy kind of content creation that’s bleeding into other media outlets and threatening to homogenize advertorials.
The battle to save the Internet from cats
The Internet is the domain of cats and the humans who love them, but many users reached critical cat mass some time ago. Nevertheless, BuzzFeed recently introduced Cat Internet, an admittedly witty take on a niche user base. The welcome page is full of spoofs on the site’s listicles, with titles like “10 Hilarious Lifehacks To Wake Your Human Up At 4 A.M. Literally Every Morning” and “A Red Dot Moving Very, Very Fast.”
Ads don’t appear on these articles—after all, the feline demographic tends not to have much buying power—but in addition to serving as another type of timesuck, it runs a decades-old joke into the ground. BuzzFeed continues to broaden its content base, but wasting real estate like this doesn’t do them any favors. And sites that follow its lead run the risk of losing space they could use with useful content.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with BuzzFeed’s business model or the content it creates; the site is popular and successful for a reason. But advertorials will need to rely on creativity and diversity to remain effective—and if BuzzFeed represents the future of content marketing, the digital marketing world could become pretty dull, pretty quickly.
Image credit: Scott Beale