Quirky BuzzFeed lists lure millennials, car marketers

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Some automakers are feeding the viral-content cravings of millennials in an effort to create brand appeal.

Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota, Mini and others are diversifying their ad strategies with quirky posts on BuzzFeed, a millennial-dominated social media site known for its "Top (insert number)" lists ranking every topic you might imagine.

The site employs more than 100 journalists who report on topics such as politics and business. But for many its appeal lies in the contagious lists that persuade many of its 85 million unique monthly users to plaster their social news feeds with outlandish photos and Internet postings.

Some examples:

• 25 Party Appetizers That Should Be Banned For Life

• 21 Dogs Who Are Prepared For Black Friday

• 15 Terrible Love Lessons We Learned From Disney Princesses.

Toyota and BuzzFeed's ad-content staff once came up with a post dubbed "11 Dances You Should Totally Do In The Car" to name-drop the 2014 Corolla, while Volkswagen echoed its Super Bowl spot with "9 Songs That Will Turn Your Frown The Other Way Around." Buzz-Feed's ad creative team is separate from the editorial operation.

More than half of BuzzFeed's monthly visitors come through mobile devices. The site had a record month in November with 130 million unique visitors.

"With the 2014 Corolla, we know that we have a new kind of consumer -- they're hyper social digital natives connected to everything they care about from friends, to entertainment, to researching for their first new car," Dionne Colvin-Lovely, Toyota's national marketing media manager, wrote in an e-mail. "Connecting with them meant meeting them where they already were."

Automakers are enticed by users' propensity to share BuzzFeed content.

BuzzFeed buzz
The social media site put up impressive numbers in November.
• 30 posts topped 1 million views.
• More people visited BuzzFeed in November than in the first 4 years of the site's existence combined.
• Referral traffic from Facebook, Twitter and Google hit record highs.
• Users on iOS and Android apps set records.
Source: BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed's 1.3 so-called "social lift benchmark" indicates that for every 10 people who see a post on the site, three others are reached through social media referrals, said Jonathan Perelman, a BuzzFeed vice president.

Automotive marketers are eager to tap into this viral potential with breezy features that often center on humor rather than on the horsepower and fuel economy of the latest hot hatches and small crossovers.

The selling part comes later, after the branding seed sprouts.

In one case, a BuzzFeed campaign tied to Mini's "Not Normal" marketing pitch last year showed a 33 percent boost in purchase intent among those exposed to content through social sharing. Perelman said 30 percent of content advertising traffic comes through social media.

"The power for auto brands, really any brand, but really for automotive brands is you can tell a really compelling, sometimes funny story that's adding value to the consumer so that they're not only going to want to engage with that ad, but also share it with their friends," Perelman said in an interview.

Automakers collaborate with BuzzFeed's 30-member ad creative team to come up with attention-grabbing content.

The content is housed on dedicated pages for each brand that are flanked by the Facebook or Twitter feeds of the companies, in addition to banner ads across the top.

"The unique content that is created on BuzzFeed directly helps us engage with millennials in a humorous way to bring them something that interests them yet ties back to our brand guidelines and messaging that we would like to share in order to grow favorable opinion," wrote Erica Bigley, Ford's digital media manager, in an e-mail.

Volkswagen capitalized on this year's Super Bowl hype with a twist, honoring the losing San Francisco 49ers instead of the champion Baltimore Ravens.

Right after the game, BuzzFeed posted, "So Your Team Lost, But Here Are 10 Reasons Why It's Still Awesome To Be A San Francisco Fan" in the spirit of its upbeat "Get in. Get Happy." marketing pitch. VW and BuzzFeed had content prepared for both victory and defeat.

Reasons included, "Nic Cage filmed his greatest movie ever, The Rock, in your town," and "You have the coolest Chinatown outside of China."

Said Perelman: "It was a great way to tap into one of the real powers of social media right now, which is this notion of real time."

"There's an idea to expand upon real-time marketing as planned spontaneity. We knew a team was going to lose. It sucks for them, but we knew a team was going to lose. Working with VW on what mattered to them, which was happiness, let's celebrate the team that lost. It was unexpected [and] it was in real time."

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter

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