BuzzFeed’s Peretti: Mobile is a Better Ad Vehicle

CEO says that ads, even long-form content performs better on phones

The Web publishing world has been slightly panicked over the growth of mobile consumption—mostly because for individual sites, the just money isn't there. Mobile banners are seen as a lousy brand vehicle, which is why so many are rushing to native ads.

BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti might as well be telling the industry: rush faster. (And while you're at it, write longer stories instead of short blog posts and cheap slide shows.)

According to Peretti, mobile ads perform better for BuzzFeed than do desktop ads, in terms of clickthroughs and sharing. That's way counterintuitive to conventional online ad wisdom. His theory as to why: "People are more focused on mobile," said Peretti, who sat for a keynote interview at AdExchanger's Industry Preview conference on Tuesday. "On the desktop, there are all those distractions."

Speaking of avoiding distractions, said Peretti, people are consuming longer stuff on mobile phones than expected. Case in point: A recent 6,300-word story about a man who bought a house in Detroit for $500 has had millions of mobile views, with users spending an average of 20 minutes on the story. "That's totally counterintuitive," said Peretti. "What's not supposed to be happening in mobile keeps happening in mobile."

BuzzFeed gets more than half of its traffic on mobile devices, including half of its video views, said Peretti. And surprisingly, the phone is outpacing the tablet for audience, even for long articles. Peretti theorized that people are literally too lazy to reach for tablets on their coffee tables when their phones are often on their person.

He predicted that the heavy mobile consumption trend would have major implications on publishing tactics in 2014. On their way out: infographics (unless they are mobile-friendly), slideshows and even paginated articles. "Its about the infinite scroll," said Peretti, mimicking a flick of a finger on one's phone.

Among the other highlights of Peretti's talk:

-BuzzFeed is starting to see significant traffic referrals from Pinterest, particularly on weekends for more visual stories. In those cases, more traffic is coming from tablets than phones.

-The company's recent post What City Should You Actually Live In has generated close to 20 million views in five days. The quiz form is something Peretti thinks more publishers should experiment with. 

-Despite appearing before a crowd filled with programmatic-loving ad execs, Peretti remained steadfast in his familiar refrain that BuzzFeed isn't interested in banners or cookies or retargeting. AdExchanger executive editor John Ebbert, even asked him, jokingly, "What are you doing here?" 

-When asked whether publishers can use technology to create viral content, Peretti basically said no. He pointed to Facebook's social reader experiment, which automatically shared what articles friends were reading, whether they realized it or not. "People really hated it," he said. "Sharing is such a human thing.

-Peretti wasn't totally anti-ad tech. When Ebbert asked him whether native ads can be sold programmatically, Peretti said, "I think that's what Facebook has become." 

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