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BuzzFeed UK believes AI creative will supercharge its advertising potential


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

June 19, 2023 | 6 min read

The digital media firm announced its first AI-powered quizzes earlier this year and has already announced a suite of new products. Here’s why its senior director of UK content James Martin is bullish on AI for commercial publishing.

Buzzfeed UK doubled turnover to £20.5m last year but made pre-tax loss of £3.3m

AI tools are increasingly at the core of BuzzFeed’s pitch to advertisers

BuzzFeed is taking its new set of AI-powered content to market, pitching to advertisers on the back of its brand recognition and the benefits offered by artificial intelligence. In addition to the Infinity Quizzes the digital-only brand launched at the start of 2023, the site and its sub-brands like Tasty UK are now publishing AI-powered chatbots and games.

Botatouille, for instance, is a Tasty-branded AI chatbot that helps its users with recipe suggestions and information. With Tasty already a key focus for BuzzFeed’s e-commerce ambitions, the idea is that advertisers and clients will be able to integrate their own products into the bot’s suggestions.

Martin explains: “It can be a meal planner that has the same Tasty voice, but then with tramlines on it that means it’s purely vegan or purely vegetarian or chicken-based… it can be ultra-personalized. We also see very, very high retention on our editorial chatbots, too. One thing that BuzzFeed has always done is take great editorial formats and flip them for branded. And AI is no different.”

An image from BuzzFeed's AI-based pitch to advertisers

He explains that there are currently no pricing differences between AI-generated and regular editorial content, though isn’t ruling it out entirely. He says the current focus is on creating custom prices around what the client is looking for, but that pricing is “not so wildly different from what we might see in the other products in our product suite”.

Much of the discussions around AI for commercial use have been around its safety. Marketers and analysts have raised the points of copyright infringements, disinformation and harmful content. Martin says that BuzzFeed is approaching the use of AI in its content in a way that is both transparent and which aligns with government recommendations.

Future-proofing AI

He also notes that the company is keeping an eye on discussions around regulation; its chatbots and AI games are powered in part by ChatGPT, whose founder has threatened to pull out of the EU if it is “forced” to abide by regulatory rules it deems too restrictive. Martin says: “We appreciate that there are bigger questions that governments and big tech are going to look at. We’re really focused on doing it in a very transparent way that absolutely aligns with what governments and big tech feel is right.

“We have our own guidelines, in terms of how we use it, we apply the same levels of journalistic rigor to AI content as we would to any content.

He explains that – given the speed with which the tech has evolved – the publisher is still exploring the ways in which the Infinity Quiz and its other AI products can inform and power its first-party data. Noting that “the broader piece of how that is then leveraged with brands is still being unpacked” he says that BuzzFeed is discovering more things about the data every day that encourages it in terms of content, and “that will then have brand applications as well when the time is right.”

BuzzFeed’s News vertical recently shuttered, and the wider company shed 15% of its staff. At the time its CEO Jonah Peretti was criticized for the tone of a memo which critics felt suggested that AI would be used to replace workers. It has also been suggested by others including, the chair of The Independent John Paton, that some media companies are using AI as a sticking plaster to cover for weak underlying business models.

Martin stressed that BuzzFeed’s approach to AI is an accelerator of what it has always done well, rather than an active replacement for human creators. He notes that the Infinity Quizzes are created in tandem with a journalist and the Buzzy AI tool and are labeled as such. He said: “When you think about what BuzzFeed does, there are three core things. There’s AI, there are cultural moments, then there are creators as well. BuzzFeed as a brand brought you the internet quiz and we’re at the vanguard of social video publishing. It probably shouldn’t be a shock that a company that has always done evolution quite well and has always been a brand that has looked for new ways to innovate, should also be the brand that is leading in the AI space as well.”

For the moment BuzzFeed is still figuring out how best its AI-powered content can feed value back to its advertisers. It says that while the increased engagement and time spent on AI-generated content is a great start, there is much more that can be done with the technology for both its users and its partners.

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