BuzzFeed Is About to Take Branded Cat Videos to a Whole New Level

New GM Jonathan Perelman Plans Branded Video Push

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BuzzFeed is hoping it can create videos with all the social appeal of "16 Dogs Who Tried Their Best But Didn't Succeed."

BuzzFeed Video has been around for roughly 15 months, but it isn't exactly well known among marketers. The division looks to change that when it hosts its coming-out party to advertisers at next month's Digital Content NewFronts. However, the unveiling will take some explaining.

Our idea is different than the upfronts that say 'This is the line-up for next season' and trot out our stars. Our goal for this is to do education to give an understanding of what makes BuzzFeed video unique," said Jonathan Perelman, who oversees BuzzFeed's agency strategy and was appointed GM of video three months ago. Mr. Perelman discussed those plans further in a video interview below.

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BuzzFeed's pitch may sound familiar. Like its article-oriented parent site, BuzzFeed video isn't interested in running standard ads. The pre-rolls that do air before BuzzFeed's videos are a result of distributing through YouTube, which appends the spots. The substitute is, of course, branded videos that aim to bank on advertisers' familiarity with BuzzFeed's advertorial-like sponsored articles in order to get advertisers' attention.

"From a media-centric standpoint, I think that they probably haven't done a great job of promoting [the video property]," said Angela Courtin, president of Dentsu Aegis Network U.S. However she said BuzzFeed "will succeed where others have not because of the strength of their content on the editorial side."

Today BuzzFeed video may not be super popular among advertisers, but it has caught on with consumers, even if comScore numbers might indicate otherwise. BuzzFeed's monthly video audience has grown from 2.2 million people in January 2013 to 4.0 million a year later, and the site peaked in May 2013 with 7.9 million viewers, according to comScore. However, the site contributes only a sliver of BuzzFeed's overall video traffic, nearly 60% of which happens on mobile devices.

As with BuzzFeed's traditional fare, social sharing is the biggest traffic driver. But unlike an article, people don't have to click through to to watch the publisher's videos. They can watch them without leaving their Facebook or Twitter feeds. In fact, only 10% to 15% of BuzzFeed's video views happen on BuzzFeed's 1.6 million subscriber YouTube channel has a lot to do with that, as do distribution deals with Yahoo and AOL and soon MSN.

Ms. Courtin expects BuzzFeed's expanded distribution to pique media buyers. "I don't think [brands' content] needs to necessarily sit within their platform. It needs to travel," said the exec who co-founded Aegis Media's branded-content agency The Story Lab.

BuzzFeed ran its first branded videos about a year ago for marketers including GE and YouTube. Then it kind of holed up for nine months to figure out what works. "The real future here are these pieces of branded content that feel editorial in a sense. People know it's an ad, but it's this piece of content that's entertaining to them and that shares their identity or makes people think a certain way or is informing them," Mr. Perelman said.

For example, BuzzFeed's executive VP of video and early YouTube star Ze Frank narrated a video for Purina's litter brand Tidy Cats in a funny, Ron Burgundy-like voice known to his fans. Since debuting last November, that video has been watched more than 4.2 million times and shared more than 102,000 times on Facebook. And while some marketers may struggle to get people not click "skip" after five seconds of their YouTube pre-roll ad airs, the average person has sat through 74% of the two-minute video.

"What I like about BuzzFeed is it's one of the few social publishers to actually show us the true opportunity in driving earned output around the content you create. That's their model," said DigitasLBi senior VP John McCarus, who oversees the agency's brand content work. The co-lead of the Digital Content NewFronts added, "I think you're going to see BuzzFeed and Digitas step it up over the next few months and commit to a much more robust creative output together."

In the past month BuzzFeed has created more videos for brands than in the previous 13 months combined, Mr. Perelman said. And he and Mr. Frank are now focused on getting brands to create video compilations that aren't so much series as spin-offs, like follow-up clip Mr. Frank voiced for Purina's dog treat brand Beggin' to promote its Party Poppers product.

BuzzFeed Video's Beverly Hills headquarters
BuzzFeed Video's Beverly Hills headquarters

As the division's leader, Mr. Frank straddles the editorial and business sides, but he keeps a defined line between editorial and advertising. BuzzFeed has roughly a dozen people working exclusively on branded videos. That team is led by Dee Robertson, who started on the editorial side but told Mr. Frank he wanted to create branded videos.

Mr. Robertson "was one of my first two hires, so he knows how I'm thinking about this. He knows how we grew edit. That's a great core for that team to have, but I think that they need to actually tackle what branded content is as its own experiment. It's not just edit moved over to branded stuff," Mr. Frank said.

Mr. Frank described the branded content team as "a hybrid between folks that have been battle-tested in doing 10 to 15 [client requests] a week to the other side of folks with a background in the creation of content, and they're aligned with the goals of changing expectations."

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