Are Cat Listicles an Effective Marketing Tool?

by Paddy Johnson and Matthew Leifheit on May 23, 2014 · 4 comments Internet

Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti

Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti

Former art worlder and Buzzfeed co-founder Jonah Peretti takes the cover of this week’s New York Magazine for his work on the world’s Buzziest site, Buzzfeed. It’s a site made up of animal listicles, poop jokes, reaction GIFs, and now, political writing and even long form journalism. This conversation isn’t about any of that stuff though; it’s about ads. I guess this makes sense, since Buzzfeed doesn’t bother making much distinction between the two, and they are pioneers of what is called, “Native Advertising”, posts that are written by site editors, and are about the advertiser.

There’s not a lot of new information in this piece, but read through the first 7 pages you eventually get to the fact that many advertisers question the effectiveness of this model.

But ad-world veterans point out a more immediately obvious drawback: Most advertising produced by publishers just looks amateurish. “Ninety percent of it is really bad, and it makes creative agencies cringe,” says Jason Clement of TBWA\Chiat\Day, who oversaw the digital portion of the successful Old Spice campaign when he was with a previous firm. “I’ve never seen anything on BuzzFeed that felt ownable by the brand. That didn’t feel like LOL, OMG.”

In my conversations with agency executives, I heard this observation many times. BuzzFeed’s advertisements may draw traffic, but are they really selling anything? After all, even Faris admits that he uses BuzzFeed to introduce Virgin Mobile to an audience—only to hit them with a banner ad elsewhere. “It’s not enough to get someone’s time with a bunch of cats,” Gerry Graf says. “It’s not enough to entertain somebody, if you’re actually trying to do marketing.”

Wait a minute…you mean that Quiznos cat video isn’t effectively selling anything? (Note, that 5,4,3 never has a dollar sign in front of it, so viewers have no idea that those numbers refer to specific items on its value menu.)

Unsurprisingly, Peretti’s work as Eyebeam’s head of Research and Development didn’t get much more than passing attention, probably because that work had relatively little do with what seems to be the meat of the story, advertising. That’s a shame, because as Tom Moody points out on his blog, tumblr borrowed the concept for their reblog from Eyebeam, which produced the first reblog.



tom moody May 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Paddy, you’ve mentioned Peretti’s art world ties a few times but am not really sure how much claim that realm ever had on Peretti, or vice versa.

The New York magazine article sums it up: “Peretti’s first attempts to manufacture virality took the form of conceptual pranks, which he devised with his sister Chelsea, now a successful comedian. For one, Peretti set up a telephone hotline that played a recorded rejection, designed to be given out to guys at bars. Another, ‘,’ purported to be the personal site of a white couple who were trying much too hard to prove they were down. The stunts garnered TV coverage, including an uncomfortable BET appearance, and a show at the New Museum.”

Blackpeopleloveus was obnoxious and not all that funny, and that New Museum installation was dreadful, “wall installation 101.” This was a man destined to be an Ad Man, not an artist. (In fairness, the “dirt style” HTML design page he did with Arcangel was amusing.)

The Eyebeam Reblog is credited to Peretti and Michael Frumin (who also collaborated with Arcangel). When I did the reblog in 2004, if I had questions they went to Frumin, or Alex Galloway. I’m not sure how much Peretti had to do with it — that would be worth a follow-up to the New York magazine story.

Paddy Johnson May 23, 2014 at 3:57 pm

If he’s at Eyebeam, I think he’s participating in that world albeit reluctantly. I know he thought that art and tech be separated, so I get the sense he wasn’t super interested in the art world, even though it sometimes sought him out.

I think you’re right about the follow up though. It’s a good idea to get that clarified.

Lindsay May 28, 2014 at 10:05 am

The NY Mag article was published last year – Apr 7, 2013.

tom moody May 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

The New York article was last year but it was discussed recently because some writers followed up on Peretti’s
early essay about “identity formation and the urge to consume,”
and one of them got a response from Peretti. I wrote about this in my post “I, Like, Reached Out to the Buzzfeed Guy.”

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