Bon Appetit hunts for hungry millennials with spinoffs

Nimble, upstart publishers like BuzzFeed’s Tasty have figured out how to game the food internet with overhead cooking videos featuring concoctions that seem every bit as easy to make as they are tantalizing.

Now, stalwart Bon Appétit wants to get a piece of the pie, so it’s launching a digital expansion with three new verticals coming in 2017. The first, Healthy-ish, for young, female readers, will kick off January 17 with 35 to 40 videos on Facebook and Instagram. Two more brands are set to follow: One for newbie home cooks (working title: BA Basic), at an undetermined later date; and City Guides, a multi-platform series supported by 40 social videos, coming in April.

Pamela Drucker Mann, CRO of Condé Nast’s Food Innovation Group, which includes Bon Appétit, said the strategy was to reach new audiences that aren’t necessarily reading or aware of Bon App, and that means reading them on social. “If this were 1985, we’d be launching a new magazine,” she said. “We got to think about where are the majority of our people.”

There are already a lot of cooks in the online kitchen, though. In a year, BuzzFeed’s Tasty has racked up 75 million Facebook fans to Bon App’s 1.6 million. Condé Nast’s Food Innovation Group had 30.8 million unique visitors in October, an 80 percent year-over-year increase, according to comScore, but Bon App, which belongs to it, had just 6 million unique visitors, down 2 percent.

Home page of the forthcoming Healthy-ish vertical. Photo: Alex Lau. Food styling: Sue Li

Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appétit, is betting that the title’s longstanding brand and editorial expertise will result in better, stickier video content than a lot of the generic-feeling food content that’s out there. “I’m a big believer in, if I get the tone right and point of view right, people will come back,” he said.

Bon App is also hoping to set itself apart by aiming at something between healthy and indulgent with Healthy-ish — a stylish site for people who eat a grain bowl for lunch but then go out drinking in the evening. There’s a wide range of advertisers that could want to be associated with a food brand that’s somewhere between super healthy and ones where “every single recipe seems to have to have oozing cheese,” said Syed Bukhari, director of marketing operations at Rational Interaction.

Bon App, like every publisher, faces a dilemma when it comes to social distribution because while the audience might be there, the path to monetization is still unclear. Apart from the platforms’ limitations, publishers need to prove their audience reach and offer advertisers something that feels like more than just a product placement ad. Before Tasty started integrating advertisers into content, they invested in a ton of content and built rapport with their community, said Kitty Tsang, a digital strategist at Ready Set Rocket.

Drucker Mann said while the goal was to get readers back to Bon Appétit’s own site, to launch a new brand without thinking about social media would be a miss, even if the money part is in doubt. She’ll also be able to sell advertisers on print components, which all three of the new brands will also offer. Healthy-ish has signed on two sponsorship packages so far, to Michelob and Arla cheese.

“All due respect to Tasty, but that’s a social strategy,” she said. “We have our own destination. I’m going to monetize it by reaching new users who are going to come to us.”

The spinoffs will live on what Rapoport calls “Big BA,” but the point is for them to become brands in their own right, similar to how other established publishers are approaching new verticals, including Bon Appétit sibling publication Vanity Fair, with The Hive.

“We as users go to specific sites for specific reasons,” Rapoport said. “Doing it this way is better for users, better for editors, knowing who we’re creating content for; and better for advertisers. They want to target a specific user.”

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