What Advertising Can Learn From BuzzFeed

A few days ago I attended a panel discussion/interview with Juliane Leopold, founding editor of BuzzFeed Germany, at betahaus Hamburg. She talked about how everything started, how she set up the team, how BuzzFeed wants to be political and opinionated, etc.

All of this wasn’t really surprising until the moment when she opened the site on her computer and referred to one of the post as “identity post”. An identity post is content that aims to appeal to a user’s identity rather than his hunger for news. It’s related to his hometown, generation, ethnicity, football club, age, school, etc. We probably all have stumbled upon those articles, the most obvious carrying headlines like “27 Terrible ’90s Problem That Kids Today Will Never Understand.” (See how this targets two groups with different identities? People who lived through those 90s problems and the kids of today that presumably can’t relate to them.)

By tying this content to identities, BuzzFeed somehow liberates themselves from being always up-to-date. Instead of focusing on latest content they have time to create greatest content.

I wonder if we can learn anything from this principle in advertising. Brand messages wouldn’t maybe become more relevant but would stay relevant for a longer time. Identities tend to be more stable than trending topics, fashion, or the latest news. It also seems to me that behavior based on identities should be more predictable.

Great brands – and great brand communication – play a significant role in people’s lives and therefore are (at least temporarily) part of their identity. Efforts like Mac vs. PC or the whole Samsung vs. iPhone thing are in part successful because they tie their messages to identities and play with it.

Our goal has to be to get people to make brands part of their identity. That calls for consistent communication that gets personal for some and alienates others. And it requires a good understanding of the brand – but more importantly of people.


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