A first reaction to this would be who knew that Buzzfeed covered news? Most of us thought it was listicles with the occasional “hilarious” video and the like. But apparently they do have news operations in both the UK and Australia and very shortly they won’tthey won’t:
BuzzFeed will no longer cover news in the UK and Australia as part of further cutbacks aimed at minimising losses amid a massive drop in advertising revenues.
The company told staff of the cuts on a conference call on Wednesday afternoon, according to reports.
Ten staff in Britain and four in Australia have been furloughed and their future remains unclear.
BuzzFeed said: “Both for economic and strategic reasons, we are going to focus on news that hits big in the United States during this difficult period. Therefore, we will notify staff in the UK and Australia that we are not planning to cover local news in those countries. We will be consulting with employees on our plans regarding furloughs and stand-downs in these regions.
This all, at first look, appearing rather weird – over and above that wonder of the existence of those news departments. For online traffic has boomed in this lockdown. Partly because the sale of physical newspapers has crumpled and we’d all like to get reading matter somewhere. Partly because our surfing is no longer interrupted by that horror of actually having to do some work.
Just for those who don’t know traffic booms during working hours. The internet news sites – and many non-news sites – are not things we look at when we get home, or before we go. You can track office opening hours around the globe by looking at traffic numbers. UK traffic starts soon after 9 am, East Coast US traffic around 1 pm UK time (Americans tend to start work at 8 am their time) and so on to the West Coast and so on.
Work is something normally done in the interstices of reading that vital piece on 101 Essential Things To Do With Spare Toenail Fungus. Less work for us all to do, fewer interstices.
However, coincident with this boom is a slump. No one is advertising. This being sensible enough as no bugger out there is actually buying anything. Why deploy an advertising budget if it’s impossible to engender any sales from it?
This being something interesting as well as obvious on that second look. The interest being that we’ve a natural experiment here. There’s a common enough claim out there – the Sage of Ely is one proponent which is how we know that it’s wrong – that advertising is aimed at the creation of demand. Show us some perfect world to aspire to, we all take out debt in order to buy the baubles. Advertising, that is, creates the basic desire which drives the whole consumerist system forwards.
The other story is that advertising isn’t about “Buy Something!” it’s about “Buy Mine!” That is, instead of creating the desire itself, advertising is about channelling that extant desire into the products of the advertiser. Lamborghini ads do not create a desire for penis extensions in ever-limper middle aged men, nor the lust for those birds whose company can be rented by driving one, but instead channel that victory of desire over possible performance away from Aston Martin, Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari toward Lamborghini.
The behaviour of advertising – perhaps advertisers – during a period of no demand is a test of the two competing explanations. If advertising were about creating the initial demand by stoking desire then when no one is buying we’d be seeing more advertising. To, obviously enough, create that demand where none exists. If, on the other hand, advertising were about channelling extant demand then when there isn’t any we’d see no advertising. We have little demand right now – we’ve got little advertising.
Thus we have tested an assertion from the Sage of Ely and found it to be wrong. Well, OK, we know that anyway, but we’ve also found the larger position to be in error. The very fact that Buzzfeed is laying people off at this moment of booming readership of online sites is proof that advertising is about influencing demand that already exists, not about creating it in the first place.
All of which is indeed most interesting for it’s not just interesting, it’s also the first interesting thing anyone has ended up knowing as a result of the existence of Buzzfeed.