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Inside Buzzfeed’s branded video strategy as it partners with Costa for UK launch

Buzzfeed is eyeing a bigger piece of the $1bn branded content pie, opening up its commercial video arm to British advertisers – with Costa first on the list – 18 months after it launched in the US.

Announcing the move at the IAB Digital Upfronts event in London today (19 October) the publisher boldly claimed success for what is still a fledgling division, saying branded video views run into the millions and, perhaps more importantly, match the engagement rates it sees for non-branded videos.

Scale is its biggest asset. In one month, the Californian studio will produce over 340 videos in 11 different languages gathering some three billion views across 30 distribution platforms.

Spearheading the expansion from Hollywood is Buzzfeed Motion Picture president Ze Frank – a former vlogger himself – while newly instated general manager for Europe, Kate Burns, is leading the albeit smaller operation in London. Currently, just a handful of people make up the British team but within the next six months Burns is set to begin a recruitment drive.

Currently, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat dominate the service, with branded content accounting for 10 per cent of that output. Since its launch last year, Buzzfeed has shared a plethora of advertisers in the US and is now ready to transport those insights across the pond.

“It’s certainly high time as television goes through lots of trials and tribulations across the globe,” Frank told journalists at the announcement. “There’s a lot of brands used to having high impact awareness work on TV that are starting to wonder where that will go.”

Test and Learn

From the Hollywood headquarters it’s been in a ‘test and learn’ phase, recruiting a team of over 200 content makers to experiment with different formats.

From there, Frank has identified the three different “buckets” of content it deems highly shareable – ‘identity’, ‘emotional gift’ and ‘social information’. Buzzfeed is particularly interested in how brands can attach themselves to ‘identity’ content, which leans on the idea that a video can express a quality better than a person can in words. For example, a video titled ‘Weird Things All Couples Fight About’ (4.53 million views) elicits the “that’s me!” response prompting the desire to share with someone else.

‘Time delay’ videos are built based on the success of a piece of written content while its ‘Tasty’ series was born from Facebook’s decision to introduce autoplay without sound. Short Vine-style films demonstrate how to cook a recipe in under a minute and, with 7.2 million page ‘Likes’ on its dedicated page, have opened up a “new way of thinking about sponsorship and endorsement” for brands.

Understanding what works is “part data and part gut” but Frank is insistent that it’s not trying to find the holy-grail.

“The movement of things in the ecosystem is so contingent on the ecosystem itself,” he said. “And the problem is that advertisers can just copy the thing that was popular. So we need to look at how the content is used by a person to connect with another person – identity – and we also need to think about [context].”

Therein lies its biggest challenge. Frank is turning his attentions to convincing agencies to be more forthcoming with insight and data as well as more amenable to collaborating more closely with the publisher in order to better target audiences. His “biggest frustration” being that the in-depth knowledge an agency has on a brand will not be shared in any real depth with Buzzfeed. And so, moving into the UK the publisher wants to make it more habitual to marry its own data with that of the agency and brand in order to help the latter “get a head start” on content creation.

Measurement

Despite proclaims of success, Buzzfeed is not immune to the wider industry issues of proving ROI. In distributed environments it’s becoming a bigger challenge to reconcile a variety of different platform analytics to the KPIs brands hold most dear, namely awareness, intent to purchase and recall. In most cases, Buzzfeed research from its internal analytics arm Pound comes as part of the deal.

“When we have access to all the analytics [advertiser side] we find that sharing correlates to a lift in all metrics,” claimed Frank. “But we still have a lot to do. Ultimately we want to align with the best in class standards in the industry."

A recently penned yearlong agreement with WPP’s media arm, Group M, will prove pivotal to gaining traction among agencies in the coming months. The landmark deal has seen the holding company make a point of endorsing Pound among clients to show how Buzzfeed content is consumed and shared,

“It’s exciting for us because the only way to crack [the measurement issue] is with scale and brand partners,” said Frank of the challenge.

Costa: 'Little things that make people in Britain happy’

High street coffee chain Costa has been primed as its first partner for the UK launch, although a string of other brands are in the pipeline.

The film, titled ‘Little things that make people in Britain happy’, is scheduled to go live sometime on the next week and shows a series of people sitting at a table, drinking from Costa takeaway cups discussing the what makes Brits smile.

Costa’s marketing director for the UK and Ireland, Caroline Harris, explained that through a mix of paid and organic it is hoping to achieve at least a million views to drive awareness. Meanwhile, it hopes that being the first to market with Buzzfeed’s proposition will cement its position as being ahead of the curve among consumers.

“Working with Buzzfeed was an opportunity for us to have a first to market, which is fantastic for us,” she said.