What are they?
Over the past several years, sites such as Buzzfeed, USA Today’s FTW, and Upworthy have exploded in popularity. These sites link viewers to viral content from the web. These sites have articles which are filled with pictures, videos, or GIFs with minimal amounts of text. From July 2011 to July 2013, Buzzfeed’s unique monthly viewers rose from 4.3 million to 19.3 million. The other sites have seen dramatic increases in viewership as well. In December 2013, FTW had 17.3 million unique viewers, and Upworthy is the fastest growing media site of all time.
These sites are not without controversy. Buzzfeed articles have been criticized of plagiarism. Upworthy’s headlines make outrageous claims, often letting down the viewer when clicking on a title. These titles have been labeled “clickbait”, which entice viewers to click on them. FTW follows in a similar vein as these sites. An example of such headlines can be seen here, from my screenshot from FTW’s main page at ftw.usatoday.com.
Other complaints include the simplistic text in these articles. The phrase “listicles” has emerged because of the Buzzfeed-esque article style, which includes pictures or GIFs and short captions. Other complaints include misinformation through articles or picture captions. A humorous site, buzzfeedminusgifs.tumblr.com, illustrates this writing style, pointing out one “article” simply repeats “THIS” after every image.
As I have an extreme dislike for sites such as these, I wanted to explore what makes them so popular. I may not want to make a site like Buzzfeed, but if I feel I came up with an idea that gets me loaded, I would definitely try. An idea we may or may not like still can appeal to a large amount of people, and isn’t that the whole goal of marketing a product?
“Well, what’s the takeaway?”, you ask. By using these techniques, an advertiser can get large amounts of visits to a site if their titles are enticing. These sites often aim to have an emotional response from their audience, and often they do. Upworthy often posts inspirational stories which viewers can relate to. Buzzfeed posts lists of funny GIFs about situations many of us have experienced. GIFs and pictures of our trends from the past of awesome or horrible things we like at the time make us feel good and/or embarrassed.
These listicles are also easy to digest, which is especially important when viewing from a mobile device. By utilizing these techniques, advertisers can increase their viewers if they are aiming for the audiences which visit these sites. Advertisers have noticed, and Buzzfeed’s pages are littered with ads such as United’s sponsored article, “13 Ways Speed Skaters Brave the Boundaries of Physics”. The article is the advertisement, and it’s written just like an article you would expect to be posted on Buzzfeed. In addition to mentioning United several times at the beginning, they have links to their Facebook page and a real time feed of their Twitter activity on the side of the page. The ad blends in with the rest of the home page and doesn’t feel like the average web ad.
The condensed, Buzzfeed version of this article on why these are successful:
1. This style of website draws an emotional response from the viewer.
2. The headlines do a good job of grabbing the viewers’ attention.
3. The articles are quick to read and easy to view on a mobile device.
How effective do you think these sites are as advertising vehicles?
– Shawn Dewey