‘A full-fledged cross-platform brand’: How BuzzFeed is expanding its Black vertical Cocoa Butter to YouTube, email

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is building out its Black Culture brand Cocoa Butter into more of a standalone business.

On Oct. 20, the publisher launched a YouTube channel for Cocoa Butter, and later this month the brand will debut its first weekly email newsletter. The launches reflect the development of Cocoa Butter from its July 2015 formation as a collection of social accounts that largely redistributed BuzzFeed content centered on Black culture into its own property producing original content, such as the Facebook Watch series “The Era.”

“When we talk about the content that we’ve been good at, it’s only right that we have a YouTube channel to really hone in and amplify the great work that’s been done,” said BuzzFeed brand strategist Chantal Rochelle. “Especially with this new and vibrant perspective that we have ahead of us, this is the perfect time to just push it forward.”

BuzzFeed originally launched Cocoa Butter as one of what the company has described as its “distributed” properties, in which separate social accounts are set up to share content otherwise posted to BuzzFeed, but that may appeal to specifics audiences. Other examples include BuzzFeed’s Latinx vertical Pero Like, gaming vertical Multiplayer, beauty and style vertical As/Is and women’s vertical Ladylike, which was folded into As/Is in March 2018.

Initially, Cocoa Butter had focused on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because the brand’s content was oriented around short-form programming suited to those platforms, such as videos featuring celebrity reactions, food or nostalgia. However, “there was an absence on the BuzzFeed YouTube space for a channel that was specifically for Black culture and identity,” said Ashley Jones, BuzzFeed’s supervising producer for Cocoa Butter. 

BuzzFeed would post “sprinkles of videos” on YouTube that were created by and starring BuzzFeed’s Black talent and made for Black audiences, Jones said, “but there wasn’t actually a space. And we wanted to create a safe space on YouTube where we can have some longer formats, we can have some more fan engagement and that we can be on the same playing field as our other peers, such as Pero Like, Multiplayer, As/Is and before there was Ladylike. So we just want to feel as Black creators that we can have the same opportunities on YouTube as we do on Facebook.”

In February 2020, Cocoa Butter started testing new programming formats, such as the series “Date My Fit,” that were distributed on Cocoa Butter’s Facebook page and BuzzFeed’s main YouTube channel to see how the serialized content would perform. The audience reception was strong enough that Cocoa Butter decided to pivot its programming strategy to concentrate more on serialized shows and its platform strategy to center around YouTube. 

“Our primary platform right now is going to be YouTube. We’ll be using our social outlets, such as Twitter and Instagram, to direct viewers back to the [YouTube] channel,” said Jones.

Aside from Jones and Rochelle, Cocoa Butter’s dedicated launch team includes supervising producer Ade Mangum, BuzzFeed video fellow Jada Harris and junior producer Thomas Blount. Cocoa Butter also hires freelancer producers to contribute to its content and plans to add more permanent staff members over time.

On its YouTube channel, Cocoa Butter will distribute original series, such as “We Buy Black,” which highlights Black businesses around the world; “Presidential Bites,” in which a chef will cook foods beloved by President Barack Obama; and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Flat Iron,” in which BuzzFeed producer Freddie Ransome and BuzzFeed beauty director Essence Gant travel the country in search of hair stylists.

Cocoa Butter will program the channel to have three to four series in season simultaneously, with each show’s season spanning four or five 8- to 10-minute episodes before going on hiatus. The channel is adopting that programming strategy initially in order to avoid audience fatigue for individual shows as well as to enable Cocoa Butter to test out different types of programs and see what does and doesn’t work before producing more episodes or other shows, Jones said. 

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Cocoa Butter will upload new episodes from its various shows on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The outlet decided on those days after seeing that Sundays and Wednesdays were especially high viewership days for its other accounts and then opting to add a third day in the mix, though Jones said Cocoa Butter could change its upload cadence depending on audience reception.

Coinciding with the YouTube channel and email newsletter launches, BuzzFeed’s sales teams will be stepping up its efforts to pitch advertisers on Cocoa Butter. “This is a renewed focus and opportunity to empower the sales team to sell this brand specifically,” said Tommy Wesely, svp of content and operations at BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed had previously sold sponsorship and branded content deals against Cocoa Butter creators specifically but not against the brand as a cross-platform opportunity he said. BuzzFeed has not sold any deals yet for the YouTube channel or email newsletter.

In addition to selling Cocoa Butter’s YouTube ad inventory, BuzzFeed’s sales team will pitch advertisers on sponsoring its shows and producing branded videos distributed on Cocoa Butter’s channel. Meanwhile, the company is in the process of developing a launch sponsorship package for Cocoa Butter’s email newsletter that will include sponsored placements in the newsletter as well as a Cocoa Butter sweepstakes, according to a BuzzFeed spokesperson.

BuzzFeed also sees opportunities for Cocoa Butter to contribute to its growing commerce business. Cocoa Butter already sells its own merchandise, but publisher will look for  opportunities to collaborate with Black-owned businesses as well as seek out licensing opportunities, according to Wesely. 

Between the new YouTube channel, upcoming email newsletter as well as the addition of a dedicated Cocoa Butter section on BuzzFeed’s site, “it really makes it a full-fledged cross-platform brand,” he said.

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