BuzzFeed Video Is Trying to Change the Definition of Branded Content

Wants consumers to follow marketer content just like editorial

With hits like Purina's Dear Kitten (approaching 14.7 million views), Purina's A Cat's Guide To Taking Care of Your Human (5.8 million views and counting) and Clean & Clear's Awkward Things We All Do In Our Teens But Would Never Admit (almost at 1.8 million views), BuzzFeed Video is arguably one of the biggest names that produces millennial-targeted branded content.

"These are viewers who have actively decided that this is a piece of content that speaks to them—and it happens that it is conjunction with a brand. I think that's what the next level of branded video is about: really tapping into things like emotion and identity. When you can create that piece of content that speaks to somebody about they're going through, it's going to resonate better," said Jonathan Perelman, gm of video at BuzzFeed.

Perelman just relocated to Los Angeles in July to oversee the BuzzFeed studio operations on the West Coast and the company has hired Matt Baxter in the new position of head of branded video. In that role, he'll field requests, develop pitches and oversee production.

Baxter previously worked at CBS and MTV and is best known for leading Disney's foray into branded content in 2009. "The team is so good, but we need to staff up. We need to get people in," Perelman said.

The company also is investing in a paid residency program, where individuals from a variety of backgrounds can use Buzzfeed's resources and bounce ideas off its staff when creating their own personal projects. The initiative is just a few months old and only has a handful of participants, but Perelman is excited about its potential applications.

"One of our residents is an eighth grade science teacher. Great content can come from anywhere. What's really interesting for us to look at is how can we can take some of their ideas, some of their knowledge and what they're working on and morph that into really compelling video content," he explained.

But, to do that, BuzzFeed evp of video Ze Frank said the industry has to get away from the mentality that branded content is just a Web infomercial for advertisers and topics are just editorial ideas the staff just never got around to doing. People love brands, Frank pointed out, and will talk about them whether there’s a sponsor or not.

"We shouldn't short-sell the importance of brand messaging and the brand goals. If we keep thinking in terms of, 'Here's an amazing piece of editorial, let's just put a brand stamp on it,' I don’t think that’s serving the future of the industry necessarily," Frank said. "I think we really do have to get to a point where we understand a bit more about the role this kind of messaging has on social and mobile and in people's lives.”

Frank emphasized that to create successful content, the first goal for marketers shouldn't be whether the piece of content will spread on social media, but whether it's exceptional enough that the reader would want it regardless. He believes that will raise consumer expectations—and gain their loyalty.

"We should get it to a point where consumers are following brands’ content ecosystems because its good content," he emphasized.