The marketing and advertising industry is this morning scratching their heads as Outbrain, the people who power those odd looking adverts underneath mainstream news stories on every popular news site, got the ASA treatment.
The anonymous complaint seems to be that the content being promoted by the likes of Outbrain is not clearly labelled as an advert. Outbrain, whilst being willing to comply with making any changes, make a stern defence of their product.
Outbrain made it clear that they felt it was not advertising in the traditional sense, largely because they were displaying content that was based on what the user had previously consumed. They also considered the stories to be “promoted stories” or “promoted content”. Some of the world’s largest news outlets will be looking on at this with concern given a large number now use Outbrain as a revenue stream, or the similar service provided by Taboola. The likes of Reuters, Fast Company, Cosmo, Rolling Stone and NBC News are all happy to be on the Outbrain site as customers.
The below screen grab shows Outbrain in action, in this instance on the FastCompany.com website.
The below image shows how Taboola displays its content in a very similar way to Outbrain, in this instance, the screen grab is taken from the Daily Mail. You will see that Taboola has a far larger explanation that the content shown is “sponsored content”, something that far more consumers would understand.
Marketeers will now be wondering about the ramifications as a large number or organisations use the likes of Taboola or Outbrain to drive traffic to their sites. The rise in their popularity comes on the back of brands moving to have far more focus on content marketing and then trying to find ways to promote this content.
Some brands even use it as an effective way to drive the likes of newsletter sign-ups by optimising the landing page being linked to from Outbrain or Taboola in order to encourage the site visitor to sign up for more information and promises of similar popular content being send to their inbox.
The anonymous complaint has now been upheld, meaning that changes need to be made and this will now surely mean that the likes of Outbrain and the similar service provider Taboola will be frantically considering their options which seem to be making immediate changes or starting a legal challenge.
A PR and Marketing waffler of the highest degree. Andy has worked in the media for over 15 years and speaks around the world on digital media campaigns. Always on the look out for lol'fest stories.