Add this to the signs that BuzzFeed is becoming a serious player in the media business: campaign ads.
More specifically, native, BuzzFeed-y, campaign ads. This month Obama for America became the first political campaign to advertise on BuzzFeed.
The Obama for America content consist of campaign videos on pages that look similar, if slightly less busy, to most posts on BuzzFeed. One exception is the pages come with more overt labeling, spelling out that it’s “Paid Political Content” for readers. But it’s more or less political ad content adapting to the form, taking the same approach BuzzFeed uses with companies like like JetBlue or Virgin Mobile.
For a company discovering its footing in the world of journalism, political ads represent an important step. BuzzFeed’s beefed up its reporting staff, adding a bureau in Washington D.C. and most recently expanding to Los Angeles. As an avenue for original reporting, BuzzFeed has quickly made a name for itself. It’s also a site that attracts a massive amount of eyeballs, regardless of whether it’s words, GIFs, or ’90s TV icons on the page.
“It’s more than exciting to have the presidential campaign advertising with us,” Jon Steinberg, BuzzFeed’s COO, told me.
Steinberg said the Obama campaign approached BuzzFeed about advertising on the site, which now has six video-centric posts. (Jay-Z is involved. Also, “binders full of women.) For campaigns, the process for creating a sponsored post is similar to any other brand, Steinberg said. Companies either have their own message for a series of posts, or they work with BuzzFeed’s advertising team to develop an idea. Obama’s simply embedding campaign videos it already has on YouTube. Spokespeople for the Obama for America campaign did not return requests for comment.
Steinberg said political campaigns are a natural fit for the more narrative, content-driven advertising BuzzFeed does. “For campaigns, it’s relatively easy: They have something they stand for, they have something they want to say, and they have a specific message they want to get out,” he said.
But BuzzFeed, potentially, represents more than another destination for advertising. The goal of BuzzFeed content is to thrive outside the website, to be easily readable on mobile devices, and to spread on Twitter and Facebook. For campaigns, that could help extend their reach on social media, which has steadily gained prominence in elections.
(It should be noted, though, that the Obama BuzzFeed ads don’t seem to have gotten much social media traction at all. Most show tweet counts in the single digits, although some did slightly better on Facebook. For instance, this BuzzFeed ad, featuring a video pushing voter registration, shows just 2 tweets and 28 likes. The embedded YouTube video itself, though, shows 431 tweets, separate from its BuzzFeed wrapper.)
For most news organizations, political ads are significant for the dollars they can bring in. Gannett, for example, saw a rise in their revenue and profits in their most recent earnings report, largely because of political ads (although almost entirely on the TV side). Election ads are a cash bonanza for news companies, and this year some are estimating more than $1 billion will be spent in campaign ads.
This is more good news for BuzzFeed, which is experiencing some success with its new format for advertising. Though the company won’t talk specifics when it comes to advertising numbers, CEO Jonah Peretti told The Wall Street Journal advertising revenue is beginning to finance more of company’s growth. In our conversation, Steinberg said revenues for BuzzFeed are on track to be three times higher than last year.
With election day two weeks away, the window is closing on campaign advertising. Steinberg said he hoped BuzzFeed would secure more political ads, but said the company is still ramping up its advertising and editorial departments. Building recognition for BuzzFeed’s political reporting can only help its prospects as a place for political advertising, he said.
“We’ve only had big traction with brands in the last nine months or so,” Steinberg said. “Looking forward, there’s a lot we hope to do in Washington.”