BuzzFeed Says New ‘Flight Mode’ Campaign Shows ‘The Consumerization Of B2B Marketing’

BuzzFeed always seems to be the first online publication that comes up when people want to talk about smart, creative approaches to “native” advertising, so here’s a cool example of what the site is doing with advertisers — it’s partnering with GE to allow readers to navigate the site in “Flight Mode.”

The campaign was designed to promote GE Aviation’s presence at the Paris Air Show, a weeklong industry event that ends today. In Flight Mode, BuzzFeed becomes a grid of articles, and readers fly over that grid in a little plane. When they alight on a headline that interests them, they just hit the space bar and they can read the article in the normal view.

I don’t know if I’d always want to navigate BuzzFeed (or any other site) this way, but for a few minutes, at least, it’s novel and fun.

President and COO Jon Steinberg told me that BuzzFeed promoted the navigation with a banner on top of its front page for part of last week, and the banner will be reappearing this week, too. In the meantime, anyone can access Flight Mode at any time by visiting this page. The campaign has included additional pieces of flight-themed content, like the video embedded below.

BuzzFeed might not seem like the most obvious choice for an ad campaign tied to a trade show, but Steinberg argued that this is part of a broader trend towards “the consumerization of B2B marketing.” He compared it to the “consumerization of enterprise,” where businesses are starting to use consumer products like Dropbox and Google Apps — in this case, advertisers are realizing that they can reach a business audience through a more consumer-focused site like BuzzFeed.

“People in positions to make purchases in the aviation field, they like engaging content and the same fun stuff as everyone else,” he said.

In some ways, the measurements of success for this campaign are similar to those of other BuzzFeed efforts, as well as for regular BuzzFeed content — Steinberg wants it to drive social media sharing and conversation. He doesn’t expect it to be quite as viral as BuzzFeed’s more consumer-focused efforts, but he’s hoping it sees a little more traction on LinkedIn in addition to BuzzFeed’s “bread-and-butter” sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

I also brought up one of the other big discussion topics around BuzzFeed — whether it can balance hard news reporting with the fluffier content like “This Is What Happens When 140+ Corgis Have A Beach Party.” (Just to be clear — I love the corgi beach party. I should also mention that my roommate Saeed Jones is the editor of BuzzFeed LGBT.)

“Every generation has leisure content next to their serious news,” Steinberg said. The only difference, he said, is that BuzzFeed serves a younger, Internet-savvy audience, so it’s not interested in “an architecture section about $8 million homes,” but instead, “animals and Internet culture next to politics and technology.”

As for how advertising, particularly branded, custom content, fits into that equation, Steinberg said:

I think banners have been a terrible ad product for 18 years. … You can be good or bad in your separation between editorial and advertising, regardless of your ad product. We have a total wall here between the people that work on the brands and editorial, and it’s clearly labeled, so I don’t see any tension in it.