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Did Outbrain Try to Pitch Content Marketing at Cannes?

Outbrain is one most recognizable brands in advertising technology (adtech). You’ve probably seen some of the native ads the company makes available even if you weren’t aware they were rendered by Outbrain.

Where I see Outbrain the most, is at the bottom of news sites. Usually, it’s a handful of eye-catching photos and click-bait style headlines that pitch insurance, credit cards and indoor antennas.

Outbrain and others like it are a simple way for publishers to raise additional revenue. They strike a deal to embed the Outbrain widget on their pages, and the company will sell the space for a cut of the revenue.

On the flip side, here’s of the Outbrain pitch to prospective advertisers:

“Many of our largest partners are news and media publishers such as CNN, US Weekly, Fast Company, Mashable, WSJ, and The Guardian, but we also work with lots of more niche sites, including sports, entertainment, finance, health, and technology. Our unit will usually be found in the footer of the page and marked with our logo.”

That explanation comes with an accompanying screenshot from CNN, but I went out and got one that’s current as of this week. The screenshot nearby appeared beneath the story, Tesla finally hits Elon Musk’s target for the Model 3 (click image for higher resolution):

Outbrain on CNN

You’ll notice the Outbrain logo has been replaced with SmartFeed, which seems like a branded service, probably as the company seeks to expand its offerings. That leads me to this little nugget from the Tech Tent podcast by the BBC:

“At Cannes Lions, the ad industry’s annual shindig, one company acknowledged this issue and said it had a way to deal with it. The online advertising firm Outbrain – accused in the past of spreading clickbait – wants video ads to lure people in with attractive content, rather than being seen as a necessary evil.

James Milne, Outbrain’s marketing director, tells us that he too gets impatient waiting to be allowed to skip an ad, and he wants us to be able to opt-in rather than opt out.

‘I think we’re seeing a massive switch away from that push type of marketing in very short form content to what we want to work with which is longer form editorial video that is user engaged,’ he said.

So the future may be long, beautifully made video adverts, where you may not even be aware that you are being sold anything. Or we could all decide to start paying for content, making our favourite sites less dependent on the wiles of the advertising industry.”

Opt-in advertising? Would you opt-in to ads? I’m pretty confident if I ran a survey, 99% would decline such an opportunity.

Aside from Super Bowl, where 30-second spots cost $5 million plus the cost of production, most of us avoid advertising. That is exactly what led to the emergence of native advertising and variations of the sort Outbrain sells.

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What Exactly was Outbrain Pitching?

Opt-in advertising sounds to me like it falls somewhere between content marketing and product placement. So, I started poking around on the Outbrain website to see if I could learn more.

While I didn’t find a press release or new product page, I did find a piece I thought was telling: Five Powerful Trends in Full View at Cannes by Eric Hadley the head of Global Marketing for the company.

His second point – and this is a screenshot which you can click for higher resolution – reads:

outbrain on content marketing

You see the reference to content marketing?

The term is capitalized, and the link goes to the Outbrain home page. While I don’t think the company has a chance of ranking its homepage for that term, content marketing, that a key adtech player like Outbrain is trying speaks volumes.

To be clear, native advertising is not content marketing, but it can augment a content marketing program, where you use those ads to grow your audience. It’s a rent-to-own approach to marketing and really, the same strategy to take with paid social media.

I can’t vouch for Outbrain specifically, but the concept is sound for B2B marketing organizations. The key is to research the opportunities carefully and keep the important distinction between content marketing and marketing content in mind.

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Photo credit: Unsplash

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