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For Brands, These Are the Do's and Don't's of Working With BuzzFeed

It's less about the product placement than the connection

The publisher's work with Purina has been a hit.

If there's ever a case for the viral success of native video content, it's the partnership between BuzzFeed and Purina.

The millennial-targeted publisher and the pet brand have worked together on several popular campaigns, including A Cat's Guide To Taking Care of Your Human (6.6 million views) and Dear Kitten (16.5 million views).

All the eyeballs mean that the content is popular, but marketers have been curious about whether brand lift can be created without plastering the logo throughout the video or injecting the product into the storyline. BuzzFeed and Purina, however, see no need to insert products to get positive results. According to Nielsen Research presented during Advertising Week, people who saw Dear Kitten were 57 percent more likely to want to buy wet food for their cat compared to a control group. 

BuzzFeed Motion Pictures vp Jonathan Perelman said Dear Kitten's success wasn't just because the Web is crazy for cats. Rather, the results stem from combining data from previous campaigns to create custom content for specific marketers. Here's exactly what he means by that:

BuzzFeed Videos at Least One of These Three Pillars: Emotion, Identity and Information

Digital video isn't like traditional storytelling with a narrative arc, so there's no need to think of creating content that way, according to Perelman. Not all pieces need a great story—for example, Dear Kitten is basically a list. "Storytelling is a component, but it's not the exclusive component," he said.

What’s key is that media companies understand what moves somebody and what makes them interested. Then, they need to work with the brand on how to incorporate the message into the content. Simply using product placement will feel artificial. The crucial step is determining what's unique about the product and determining how to convey that. "It's about understanding the value of the brief and what they’re trying to get across," Perelman said.

Native Content Isn't an Art, It's a Science

There is no single BuzzFeed formula to guarantee a successful viral video. Instead, company staffers pull data from the more than 2,000 videos they have produced to figure out what sentiments and adjectives people are using to describe certain products. They then overlay that information and try to make it fit with whatever campaign they are presented with next. Also, BuzzFeed regularly tests to figure out what works. "We don't have all the answers, and anyone who says they do is lying," Perelman said. "But we have pretty good insights, [and] we have a huge bank of success from the editorial side that we’re drawing from."

People Don't Like Being Advertised To

The problem with native advertising is if it feels like an ad it can turn the public off. However, that doesn't mean that viewers are averse to brands, and Perelman noted that people often wear clothing with logos to show their loyalty to brands. "I think they don't like being advertised to, but they certainly like brands. They can identify with brands. And people identify with brands if it's done right," he said. "If it's a great piece of content, not only will it not matter if it's an advertisement, they'll appreciate it as a brand."

The BuzzFeed Effect Won't Work for All Brands 

While BuzzFeed has had success working with Clean & Clear, General Electric and Mini Cooper, it doesn't mean every marketer meshes with the publisher. While Perelman wouldn't say who BuzzFeed has turned down, he noted that all the rejected brands had one thing in common: They came with a specific idea—and expected BuzzFeed to just execute it. "What doesn't work is when somebody says, 'Here's what we're doing, go make it for us,'" Perelman said. "We're not a production company. If there's not that iterative process of getting the idea, it's not going to work. We're a media company, and we need to make something that fits our vision."

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