If the web was around during the Great Depression or the Swinging Sixties, what would it have looked like?
BuzzFeed, via a new sponsorship with GE, wants patrons of its listicles and other shareworthy content to discover just that using a new app called "The BuzzFeed Time Machine." Positioned at the top of the home page, readers can flip a dial from decade to decade and see the site immediately re-skinned to reflect what the coverage would have looked like at an earlier time (think psychadelic fonts and flowers in the 1960's). At the top of the page, visitors are served a GE ad from the relevant era, such as one for a full-range radio from the 1930's or an all-new dishwasher from the 1970's or a space-age refrigerator.
Another new social-ad unit that GE is serving up on BuzzFeed is called "Then and Again," where visitors to the site can upload an old image and a new one side-by -side, to show how much their kids have grown, or the evolution of their favorite celebrity.
GE is joining the trend of large marketers who are using nostalgia to appeal to consumers, by bringing back old ad icons, logos or memorabilia related to the brand. As Ad Age reported today, General Mills is resurrecting two classic characters -- The Jolly Green Giant and Cheerios Kid -- in new ad campaigns.
"We see nostalgia as a fun way to look at the progress we've made over the years," said Paul Marcum, GE's director of global digital marketing & programming to Ad Age . "Many of the innovative technologies we're developing now have roots that go back decades and we're excited to see their stories shared."
The BuzzFeed partnership comes as GE -- which has its hands in virtually every business sector from finance to health care to tech to aviation to energy -- appears to be significantly stepping up its measured-media spend. According to Kantar, GE spent a total of $130 million on U.S. measured media in 2011, but for 2012, it spent more than $100 million in just the first six months of the year.
Meanwhile, it's also making a push on social media to connect with consumers using retro content. For example, from its corporate Twitter page last week, it tweeted: "Here's version 1.0 of our website! Can you guess what year we went digital?" On Facebook, GE has posted images of its vintage ads and is driving fans to Instagram, where they are encouraged to share -- using their favorite Instagram filter -- images of vintage GE appliances.
GE is also involved in helping launching a new vertical at BuzzFeed dedicated to nostalgic content, to add to its current portfolio of verticals that includes music, celebrity, politics, tech, sports, and LGBT content.
"BuzzFeed is focused on nostalgia because it's one of the most popular types of content that people love to share," Jon Steinberg, BuzzFeed's president, told Ad Age , noting that posts about 25 foods you'll never be able to eat again net the most traffic on the site. "It's some of the most shareable stuff because you send to your friends stuff that reminds you of being together in the nineties." He added: "GE is harnessing this even further because one of their core values is innovation across time."
Beyond a content strategy, it's also an ad strategy for BuzzFeed. In an email to staffers this summer, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti said of the site's ad strategy that it's strayed from banner and display formats in favor of more shareable ads. "The primary reason to publish slideshows, as far as I can tell, is to juice page views and banner ad impressions," Mr. Peretti wrote. "Slideshows are super annoying and lists are awesome so we do lists! For the same reason, we don't show crappy display ads and we make all our revenue from social advertising that users love and share."