BuzzFeed Shares the Secret to Its Video Success

Get on mobile or leave the space

Ze Frank at the Buzzfeed NewFront on April 28, 2014 in New York.

It's hard to believe that BuzzFeed wasn't even a player in the video space until late 2012, considering that the burgeoning digital publisher has already racked up a little shy of 1.1 billion views. And 50 percent of its video views come via mobile, said Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed CEO, at his company's NewFronts presentation in New York on Monday.

"Video has really been the biggest shift in our business," he said. "This is really coming out of nowhere."

Interestingly, only 15 percent of the company's video views are from BuzzFeed's site, another company rep pointed out, while just 20 percent are looked at by subscribers. That's why the digital player is focusing on organic sharable content for people on the go. Whether it's cute puppies or salient truths about a certain population, the key to all of Buzzfeed's content is that it compels the viewer to get others to see it immediately. 

"If your content doesn't work on mobile, it can't be shared," Peretti added.

From a broader view, Internet savviness appears to be at the heart of BuzzFeed's success with video products and its brand in general. As just one example, Peretti recalled his first foray into Web notoriety back in 2001, when he successfully trolled Nike by attempting to make custom sneakers emblazoned with the word "sweatshop." The ensuing emails with the company went viral.

"People would ask me why do you do these things?… The conclusion was you must have a lot of time on your hands," Peretti explained.

Fast forward to 2014: Viral/sharable content is part of mainstream media. Now, BuzzFeed is practically everywhere, with branches in the U.S., U.K., Australia, France and Brazil. It plans to launch in Berlin, Germany, soon.

Peretti pointed to how Ze Frank, now BuzzFeed's evp of video, and his nerdcore-comedy pals ultimately set the stage for viral sites in the early 2000s. "It's now the dominant way that people consume news and entertainment," the ceo asserted.

And it's apparently attracting brand dollars in a big way.

While Andy Wiedlin, chief revenue officer, wouldn't reveal actual numbers to Adweek, he said that the company is exceeding projections thanks to interest from ad partners. "We've grown from 30 employees to over 500 employees, and the revenue is matching that and exceeding that," Wiedlin said. 

One of BuzzFeed's top branded content campaigns was with Purina, most notably a video called A Cat's Guide to Taking Care of Your Human in late November 2013 that garnered 4.4 million YouTube views. Wiedlin said the two companies working together was "almost cheating," since BuzzFeed is known for its stable of cutesy kitten and puppy content. 

For Johnson & Johnson brand Clean & Clear, it realized that teen girls wanted to share what made them special, though they were afraid of what others would say. Instead, teens were putting photos of their female idols on #WCW (Woman crush Wednesdays) or taking joke selfies on social media, in essence sharing content that spoke to their identities without directly being judged. So, Buzzfeed took advantage of that by creating Awkard Things We All Do In Our Teens But Would Never Admit, a video that highlighted weird habits that all adolescents partake in. 

"Teens are a misunderstood species, [so] as a brand it's always an important part to find an emotional connection with them," said Vivian Nasamu-Odior, associate brand manager for Clean & Clear.

However, Ze Frank admitted that it's difficult to get hard stats on video, including figuring out how much brand lift a viral campaign can have, though more metrics should be available soon.

Frank added the company is experimenting with 30 different formats for video, including ones dubbed What If Posts, Quizzes, and X Ways To Tell You're A Y. BuzzFeed also realized that people who grew up during the recession haven't had a chance to travel, so they fantasize about going places with their friends. Videos in this "travel porn" genre, as Frank put it, tend to do well—especially on consumers' smartphone and tablet devices.

"People have talked about the year of mobile for a long time," Jonathan Perelman, BuzzFeed gm of video, told Adweek after today's NewFront in New York. "We're getting to the point where it is the most important thing. Our content works on mobile. It's a huge driver in where we've gotten to, and it's a huge driver moving forward."