You just knew the gravy train was going to come to a screeching halt at some point.
Last week, Buzzfeed officially ended the pro bono promotion machine that its hugely popular platform has yielded to an array of brands.
The digital publishing giant, as first confirmed by MediaPost, has revamped its editorial policy and effectively pulled an Elsa on brands by freezing their community brand publisher accounts.
Drawing a digital line in the snow, Buzzfeed says brands are more than welcome to buy ad space on their site. And to make it happen, they’re closing the big native loophole that’s allowed countless brands to get some pretty cushy PR without having to pay top dollar for premium advertising real estate.
So what does this swift and sudden move mean for the brands that are looking to pursue native ads on digital platforms?
On Monday, NativeMobile spoke exclusively with Selina Petosa, co-founder and chief creative strategist at digital agency Rational Interaction.
Petosa recognizes that with the rise and novelty of native advertising, some brands are jumping quickly at the opportunity to integrate their message directly into content. This creates a sticky situation for publishers looking to monetize content while maintaining editorial standards and journalistic integrity.
Clearly, Buzzfeed is trying to rebrand and build its reputation as a trusted news source by creating a stricter, more old-school advertising boundary for brands. But this leaves Petosa wondering if this decision will leave Buzzfeed without the funds necessary to produce quality content for its readers. It’s clearly a drastic move—and one that may set a precedent for other online publishers.
“Buzzfeed’s move to end community brand publisher accounts is surprising since they’ve built their business on the promise of native advertising, but not unexpected as they work to diversify their business model,” Petosa tells NativeMobile. “Content will always be king and while native advertising has the potential to transform an integrated media strategy, it’s still too nascent at this point in time to be a sustainable business model for publishers.”
“While native advertising may still be in its early stages, I commend the advertisers and publishers pioneering this space,” she adds. “As the novelty of native for brands and consumers dwindles over time, I believe it will become a standard offering across publishing channels but through a delicate balance of content marketing on targeted channels.”
So what is the potential impact of the Buzzfeed shake-up (both for Buzzfeed and the native ad industry at large)?
“As native ads become more prominent and commonplace, we’ll have increased data around their impact on brands and publishers,” Petosa says. “However, given the novelty and aesthetic quality of native ads today, they’re generating significant buzz in the publishing and advertising worlds. Buzzfeed is trying to rebuild its reputation as a trusted news source, and native ads are still in their infancy; in other words, they aren’t trusted. Consumers’ attention will certainly shift towards content that’s packaged beautifully but having a clear dividing line between editorial and advertising content intuitively helps people trust the journalist integrity of content they are presented. If people trust the source, they read more, and this attracts advertiser dollars.
All told, when it comes to where the future of branded content in the digital age is headed, Petosa believes there will be no shortage of twists and turns on the roller coaster ride ahead.
“The future of branded content is headed in an interesting direction,” she concludes. “Brands need to promote their products, and in today’s digital age it’s critical for digital publishers to have a strong social element. It’s cheaper to run digital campaigns than print, so there’s a huge opportunity for brands to invest in digital campaigns first. A lot of brands and publishers are beginning to explore native realms now because the current ad models aren’t supporting the digital industry. With this continued exploration, more opportunities will arise for brands and publishers to use native ads in the near future.”