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3 reasons why Buzzfeed is poisoning the well.

 
 

3 reasons why Buzzfeed is poisoning the well.

At the risk of going against the hive mind, Buzzfeed is the biggest ad platform masquerading as social content to hit the internet since Facebook.

Let me explain it another way: Buzzfeed is a scam. And advertisers and clients hellbent on becoming the most social brand ever are all too eager to buy into the bullshit. I use that choice word, because if you work in advertising and you spent five minutes thinking about it, then there is no other way to describe it.

1. "Carbon copy content."

Take for instance, the so-called winning formula. It's simple really. So simple you can do this on your own. Go on, find some gifs for these titles: "15 reasons why going bald isn't bad." " 33 people who will make your day." "9 left handed heartthrobs from the 80's." People in advertising, as well as brands: How exactly is doing the same thing over and over again considered creative? And should this really even be considered "content creation?" No it should not. Content scraping, yes. Creation? No.

2. "Theft."

Speaking of 'content.' Let's take last month when it was discovered their content for a "viral article," was ripped off (and not properly sourced) from Reddit. And by the way, that wasn't an isolated incident. Not. At. All. It even happened to Adland. I took this photo of the Allegheny County Health Department Wash your hands sign. Buzzfeed did not. At least we got linked. Which is more than we can say for a lot of the other images on their site.

Here's Buzzfeed on a regular work day: "Copyright infringement? What's that? Content creation? We found the image, right? It took ten minutes. That's almost like work. Which is almost like creating something. Right?"

3. "Smarminess."

Back in the 80's (that decade hipsters worship despite most not having been born in said decade) there was a gentleman's agreement among advertisers that they would self-regulate when it came to advertising on children's programming. The thinking was it was in bad taste to advertise G.I. Joe products during G.I. Joe, as younger kids weren't always able to distinguish between where the show ended and the selling began. Of course, like most things in advertising, despite good intentions of some groups, a lot of companies overlooked the gentlemen's agreement.

In other words, who cares if kids can't distinguish. In fact, its better for us.

And better for Buzzfeed, too. With the recent announcement that Buzzfeed is now partnering (god how I loathe that word) with snarky headline news aggregator Fark. Now, whenever you see an article headline ending in the phrase "Featured Partner," you know Buzzfeed is behind it.

What's worse is that Buzzfeed's attempts and getting more and more cash are diluting other brands. Quote Forbes:

Everyone likes revenue, but it’s a little jarring to see some of these partner links in the mix on Fark, a site with such a sharply defined sensibility. Fark’s guidelines for submissions exhort users not once but twice to “Make the tagline funny” but the links to Buzzfeed’s sponsored stories don’t even attempt that.

One that goes to a post sponsored by AT&T reads “Romeo & Juliet Reimagined For Fhe Smartphone Era.” Another, for Silk almond milk, reads, “15 Things That Need To Be Rethought.” It’s hard to know what readers think of the partner links since they don’t have their own landing pages with comments, unlike other Fark links.

Question: Would you have known about Buzzfeed's partnership if you hadn't read about it somewhere? Probably not. My guess is Buzzfeed prefers it that way. They would much rather have us all stay the proverbial eight year old kid unable to distinguish between the product and the show.

The adage about sharing used to be, if you like something you tell ten of your friends. The fucked up part now is, thanks to Buzzfeed, you are still liking and telling ten of your friends. You just don't realize its an ad. And if the "Partnerships," are successful, my guess is this will continue with ever increasing frequency.

Andrew Sullivan summed it up nicely:

Unless you look very closely at the small print, you’ll soon be getting links and posts you may think are journalism – with the Atlantic and Buzzfeed and others branding the page. But all you’re reading is corporate propaganda. Just keep your eyes open.

Ah yes. The Atlantic Scientology "sponsored content," kerfuffle. That was a good one too. The big difference to me is The Atlantic is a long running magazine started by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Longfellow, and Buzzfeed is a bunch of gifs made from "borrowed" photos.

Hopefully there will be enough of us out there who can still distinguish between commercial and real content, and start shouting when the so called media try to put one over on us.

In the meantime, here's a bonus tip: Second guess all Buzzfeed content. Better yet, create a new yellow Buzzfeed Button that reads: Bullshit. Apply liberally as needed.

Adland: 

Comments

A slightly tweaked comment as I was responding to one that has since been removed at the request of the commenter.

Like the posts says, at least Adland was linked, as that's not a bad thing. Though, there's a difference between plain vanilla images of ads press-released to us ad-sites, and photographs of ads in situ taken by us, copyright-wise.
The point of that paragraph is that Buzzfeed often doesn't link, as with the Reddit-scraping examples that hit Wired, and this is a bad thing™. It's not just a Buzzfeed thing either, this content-shift has been happening since EBaumsword appeared. Systematically scraping articles from other sites and then hiding a link at the bottom (instead of the start) is a habit of Huffington Post, where Buzzfeeds founder used to work. It's very much an "everyone else is doing it, why can't I?" situation at this point, which has much larger consequences than a few hits missed on a website somewhere. Newer Blogspot blogs build their entire thing out of finding (ad) niche images from other sites making daily posts on that, never once receiving a press release or creating the content themselves. Look at Tumblr, it's a sea of sharing is caring, and Pinterest is all about the copy-and-pass-it-along. We are "curators" now, not creators. The branded media space that was once on our sweatshirts is now on our personal websites.

Blurring the line between advertising, advertorial and "journalism" over at Buzzfeed at this point is going to affect the net in ways we probably won't like. The tumblrs, pinteresters, hobby-blogs and other followers will simply become the unpaid media space with every click on that share button. Advertisers have already been aiming to hoax everyone in the hopes of going viral, and microwave mentality is on the rise. Sharing is cheering on the remix culture of the lazy, in the future we are either rock stars or unemployed unwashed masses participating in the next big user generated scam.

I feel the most pity for the audience. For the most part these "featured partner" monikers are as bad as bad as writing "advertorial," in five point type at the top of an ad in a magazine. the difference is in a print magazine you don't share it. Online you share it, thinking it's cool, but would you still think it cool if you knew it was "promoted content?" I doubt it.

This snuck in early with those picture-bars at the bottom of an article online, saying "related articles" when in fact these were networks between blogs to promote their stuff, as well as some paid for articles. The early (or perhaps tackier) versions also opened pop-under windows, and many websites starting out began boosting their numbers of readers by joining and paying to be featured in such spaces. Suddenly you are no longer browsing one website, but a network of ads.

Over at Buzzfeed sponsored content is a meme-generated mish-mash of regurgitated content too. Like "16 awkward moments on Virgin mobile" which is a bunch of facebook screenshots strung together that somehow sells me a cellular phone service. (Notice the "temp title" in the URL? The temp probably made this.)

Look at the image that leads to this post, it's the Fuck That Yao Ming / Bitch please meme face that originated on Reddit, they can't even make an original button.

Ah yes, the hive-mind at Reddit. Makes line-drawings of Yao Ming and Neil deGrasse, and has entire sections devoted to jailbait and rape. This Reddit Inc is wholly owned by Advance Media, Condé Nast’s parent company.. So who owns that line-drawing of Yao Ming?

Stop picking on Reddit! They have such wonderful commentators. And besides, they champion free speech.

As we can see, the step from hive mind to mindless mob is very small indeed.

You are becoming a yesteryear and you know it. Sell out while you still can!

AnonymousCoward: Do I have your permission to steal your quote and turn it into a gif? Oh wait. I forgot. I don't need your permission.

Indeed, it is ridiculous to even think about permission. When she took that picture of that handwashing sign, was she infringing copyrights? It is almost imperialist to claim rights on open information, it is like conquering unexploited land in the 1500's. You claim something to be yours whilst it isn't something you can really own, you were only the first to stumble upon it. It is all so pitty and meaningless. I work as a CD and I don't give a rats ass if somebody steals, as long as I do my job right I'm completely fine with it. Enough money goes round. Why bother? In the end we all die and we realise we never really owned anything, just rented it for the time being.

She did not take the photo. I did. Kidsleepy is a he. There is more than one of us at adland.

I am also a CD. And I do care if people steal steal. And it's not just because I don't subscribe to copyleft argument, which I obviously don't. It's because if someone is stealing it means they are doing hack work, and that reflects on me, and I consider that a bad job, not a good one.
Maybe your opinion differs as long as enough money goes around. That's fine.

While I admire your brazen if not dour existential outlook on life, I do need to correct one thing you said:

Enough money does not go around. If it did, my production house friends would not be holding out for the lowest asshole bidder just to make ends meet.
I suspect the prevailing "everything is free" attitude has a lot to do with it. Why pay beach house for their song when you can create a knock off? Am I right?

Why should the money go round at all? And what is it going around for? Why is someone paying you to be a creative director? I mean, you're not creating anything, right? We're all renting everything. So why should we pay if we don't own?

Even the most boneheaded Kim Dotcom freehadist is better at articulating their argument.

I noticed my he/she mistake, excuse me, I thought she took the photo, only to realise just after you actually wrote that piece.

What I meant by stealing is not that I don't care when my people steal, I do and when somehow somebody from the outside had the idea first we try to work together. If the other person refuses we think of something else. However, what I do not care about is when others steal my ideas, it happened a few times when I was still an art-director, it happened a few times since I became a CD. I got payed to create something, that was my reward, they don't steal anything I will miss. It is their concious (or not) that they have to del with. Also, before I started working in adland I was an artist that had some minor success at the dawn of the digital era (you can look it up, the anti-rom project). My work was heavily copied and recreated, my style was used and before I knew it others were making careers out of some ideas I first thought off. In just a few years they became known artist smaking name for themselves while I was looking for a job as a designer. I never thought of it with resentment, instead it was just the way things went for me. i have no clue whether I would have been happier when I would have become a known artist. It is all such a void of empty personas, I mean I have a lovely kid and wife. I'm happy and they're heathy. Who the f cares really about such futile things such as ownership or intellectual property right. Musicians who can't live of their music, so what, get a job and do the musc thing in the weekend. It is all so commercial now that the real artist will struggle anyway (except maybe for the ones who are fortunate enough to meet the right people). You can now share whatever you want, anything, so easy. Enjoy that, use that.

The Beachhouse thing, well it isn't them it? It is bad taste what happened, but the knock off, well doesn't sound that bad. I prefer it to the original. Also, really, that song sounds so much like at least a dozen other songs, it is all one creative hive.

Why do I get payed? Because some of my thinking help other people earn more money so they pay me to think. And the owning argument, read some Locke and maybe some Mill. Liberalists who wrote about ownership in the wake of the industrialisation. Money just makes trading easy, owning is just an illusion.

I even got you a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antirom

Hoi vriend. I'm not sure when exactly the conversation here went from the fall of journalism as it becomes increasingly commercialized and lines blur between editorial & advertorial, and the readers eagerly accepting regurgitated lists as content, to "I'm OK when my ideas are stolen because I get payed anywayz" luxury of the employed CD who cares not for the next generation or the world around him. I'm not even sure when the idea that ideas were something you could own (legally, you can not - there is no copyright on ideas mate) and get paid for entered the conversation, but as an agency creative worker, I'm all for selling what is actually created by one, instead of simply charging for the execution which is done out of house anyway, making us all art buyers but I digress. This will never happen.

Toshiba copied Simon Faithfulls chairs, and the "hand from above" billboards were first art and then ideas hijacked by advertising campaigns, without compensation to the original artists. It's great that you think it's totally A-OK that you don't mind that your (group project) Antirom work was heavily copied, also I find it a little ironic that it was 'grafted onto re-purposed old content' considering our current discussion. I guess you were one of the very first digital regurgitators then? Cool. These days we teach plagiarism in art schools, apparently.

The modern industrial revolution and the postmodern electronic revolution are two very different things, and to apply the same "big" thinking to both of these eras is a bit like only skimming the back of a book, or read the headline of an article, to make up your mind. Which ironically is what we here keep warning people against. Don't stop thinking.

Lets get back to what the remix culture is doing to journalism, in the era when people are laughing at Woodward for crying out loud. Established journals are now "curating", that is quoting someone else without ever hitting the source. Check out the catfight between Morrisey and Blodget in Business Insider vs. Digiday: One man’s aggregation is another man’s traffic hijacking. Does the constant dilution of content as we hunt for more clicks, more eyeballs, and more ad-revenue make our news some sort of magic homeopathy where the plain old watered down blah we read somehow remembers the potent information it once carried...? I doubt it.

Hey, an update on my Woodward reference, did y'all read this damning piece in Slate? And those are just the drugs that start with the letter “M”....

Right, I'll just leave that here.

As anyone else noticed that only certain select people are allowed to comment on buzzfeed? Of the 100 plus comments I have made only maybe 1 has actually been posted on the feeds. What is this weird censorship?

I did not know they moderated comments at Buzzfeed. I've never once tried to comment there.

Great piece. I wish I'd seen it before writing my own. I will include it in the follow-up. I love a good rant!

Oh, and here's a fun listicle where Mark Copyranter explains why he was fired from BuzzfeedTOP 10 BEST EVER WTF OMG REASONS BUZZFEED FIRED ME, LOL!. For the tl;dr fans: Buzzfeed discoovered that biting the hand that feeds you (ad brands) makes them less inclined to do so. Like whoa, who would have thunk it.

Oh, and I just found this today: I Hate Buzzfeed. @ the best page in the universe

BuzzFeed has received over $46 million in funding.
They can afford to fact-check their articles. They can afford to pay people to take their time and check sources. They can afford to pay content-creators—actual content creators—for the images, photographs and writing they've stolen to become millionaires.

It is a year later and the landscape has not changed. Buzzfeed, Reddit, any tumblr & Pinterest are poison to me. i can't stand the look, the fine print of "featured partner"or op-ed dressed up as science. Makes my head hurt when I scan through just to see how low the site{s} moved the bar for so-called reporting.

I'm not a saint or a writer but I know flimflam when I see it. Poor kids soak that swill up like it is kool-aid flavor beer.

I did a rant brought on by World Cup footballers antics and that "non-profit cabal of crooks" called FIFA. Maybe not so much those guys, more like marketing. Words aren't dry yet.

The landscape won't get worse. How could it? The bar is so low it's on the ground anyway. The only difference is the level of cynicism on the part of these sites. They don't care about quality of content, only quantity. If they repeat the same listicle six times, well, who cares as long as there are retweets.

But here's the interesting thing. They go around ad agencies (including mine) touting the benefits of "partnering." Guess what? I could make my own set of gifs and place them on tumblr without having to "partner."

Even more important, the "featured partner" thing doesn't get any shares at all. Case in point, a specific car account I know of a brand who made a partnership with Buzzfeed last year for their campaign and there 'article' wasn't even shared a dozen times.

How much did they pay for it? I have no idea. I do know Facebook has started reducing reach of brands unless they pay more, creating nothing more than a specific media channel. And Buzzfeed is sagging by the weight of its own repetitiveness, I do have to wonder how long it'll be before brands really ask what's the point?

To your point about kids soaking it up, I'm not sure for how much longer. The Onion finally got around to making a Buzzfeed parody site. And while this is an instance where I feel like they waited too long to satirize it, the point has been made. Buzzfeed is the pink-goo ammonia meat of content.

Only difference is, fast food still tastes good regardless if its good for you. But Buzzfeed is going stale.

The lingering legacy of Buzzfeed will be the copycats who think of it as a workable solution.

I know of made a partnership with Buzzfeed last year for their campaign and there 'article' wasn't even shared a dozen times. (..) How much did they pay for it? I have no idea. (..)

I wondered about that. After thinking a few minutes i tossed the thought in the trash bin of not-my-problem.

I think the brands know it is a non-solution but are ... what? Stuck?

Sorry for the atrocious typing. that should have read " I know a brand who made a partnership..." And their, not there. Sheesh.

You'd be surprised how many brands haven't caught on. Case in point, Facebook is now holding brands' fans hostage unless you pay them extra to 'boost,' a post. These are fans that brands took years to cultivate. Instead of telling FB to stuff it, they're paying more.

Social media is now like any other media channel. The only difference is, if I put my TV spot on during Jimmy Fallon, I know 3.5 million people might see it. Whereas, the more FB messes with their reach algorithm, the less I believe them. Hoping that other brands will feel the same way.

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