Content Brief: display ads are coming to BuzzFeed and other content news you need to know

Pour one out for the end of summer. Raise a glass to the beginning of the end of 2017! This month, we wonder why BuzzFeed is embracing display ads, and what AI-powered native ads look like.

Display ads are coming to BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is known for many things—quizzes, cat listicles, GIFs, sponsored content, news, and now…display ads? Business Insider reports that BuzzFeed will run display ads on its homepage, story pages, and mobile apps through the Facebook Audience Network and the Google DoubleClick Ad Exchange in order to diversify and grow its revenue stream.

BuzzFeed pioneered native advertising and sponsored content, paving the way for brands to publish branded content on news sites. According to comScore, BuzzFeed reached more than 75 million unique users in June in the US, and BuzzFeed claims its audience is even larger across social networks.

So why the move to display ads? Surely BuzzFeed knows that a person is more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad, making online ads bad for the online content experience. Plus, the media company has been famously against banner ads up until now. So what gives? The move is likely to help BuzzFeed’s rumored play to make the company public next year. As Business Insider noted: “By opening its doors to programmatic advertising, BuzzFeed should be able to tap into the lucrative world of direct-response ads, particularly highly targeted digital ads powered by data (such as ads designed to get someone to buy a product, often something the person has recently searched for on the web). Targeted ads are the backbone of the digital ad industry and have driven the fortunes of its two giants, Facebook and Google.”

BuzzFeed doesn’t like banner ads, and they never have. They just want a piece of the ad money, even though they’ve shown it’s possible to grow a company without it.

AI meets native ad recommendations

As brands become more and more comfortable becoming media companies, they also become more and more comfortable sidestepping news publishers to publish their branded content. That’s good-ish news for brands and bad news for publishers. The Washington Post is trying to solve that problem by building its own  AI ad product, called Own.

According to Digiday, it works like this: “Own lets brands use their own content but promises to improve its chances of being seen and read (or watched) with the aid of Heliograf, a news-writing bot the Post built for the editorial side. Own works by serving ads to people based on their past reading/viewing behavior on the site. It uses Heliograf to generate a personalized welcome message.” Essentially, this is a form of content recommendation, but way more personalized.

For publishers, this may be a way to keep a close relationship with brands who want access to a news organization’s audience. It also buys them some time to figure out other revenue models that are less brand-based.

But is this a good thing for brands?

Yes, it is. The AI ad product does not deter brands from publishing their own content; it encourages them to publish content on publisher sites. Unless your brand is Coca-Cola or Apple, this isn’t unreasonable. In fact, it’s smart to get your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible on a variety of different channels. Those channels should be both owned (your blog, newsletter) and third-party (like publishers’ sites).

Image: Tech in Asia/Flickr

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