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.
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?"
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.