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Buzzed, Bullish, & Branded

There are a few things in this world with which I can feign some degree of expertise. Basketball, food, and despite what some people think, my job as well – marketing.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that there are times when certain industry developments really get the inner nerd in me jazzed up. With no appropriate receptacle in Hong Kong for my geeking out, I’ve relegated to the written word.

35 - Buzzed, Bullish, & Branded

Ever since attending their Newfront presentation in 2014, I’ve been an avid fan of BuzzFeed as a media publisher. They had broken down the science behind virality, deciphering exactly why people share content and implementing these findings into both their editorial approach and the algorithms powering content recommendations and discoverability on their site.  In the wake of Wieden’s hugely successful Old Spice Man, every brand was clamoring to find the next viral phenomenon.  Of course, there’s no denying that some haphazard luck is involved (see: Gangnam Style) but that didn’t mean brands weren’t captivated by BuzzFeed’s novel approach to content creation.

Over time, BuzzFeed has continued to evolve into a publishing behemoth, surpassing 200 million unique visitors and 5 billion content views per month while churning out sponsored content for brands faster than Steph Curry sinks threes (<– look, basketball expertise!).  And fresh off the release of their own dedicated video app, BuzzFeed is changing the game on branded content yet again.  Now, their latest endeavor sees them developing video content for American Express that will replace around 30 minutes of national television commercials on NBC during prime time.

This marks the first time an inherently digital web publisher will be producing branded content that will usurp valuable (and expensive) ad space on national television.  It’s a bold approach but a risky one especially in this time shifting, cord-cutting, Netflix & Chill era that we live in.  One can only imagine the amount of cash that’s being tossed at a supposedly dying medium given the cost of prime time spots on one of the largest TV networks and BuzzFeed’s increasingly growing profile as content creator.

That said, the ramifications are huge.  If the branded content starts to resonates strongly with television viewers, it could spark a revolution for standard television spots.  Imagine a world where commercial breaks are filled with intriguing content and not the typical, salesy bullshit we’ve seen for decades.  Imagine a world where viewers remain entertained and engaged for the entire hour of programming.  Imagine a world where viewers eschew the typical bathroom breaks because they don’t want to miss the new content pieces their favorite brands were producing.  Imagine a world where networks sell out their advertising coffers by producing branded content for their clients, commanding more ad time, higher advertising rates, and potentially resurrecting a fledgling television industry.  This means television can be saved, right guys?  Guys!?

Admittedly, there are a lot of ifs between now and that utopian media ecosystem.  And though it’s interesting to surmise what great things are to come, it’s more likely than not that we’ll be suffering through even more cat videos and other awkward, god-awful attempts at branded content.  One can only dream they all turn out like the Scarecrow.

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