American Express Tweaks Sponsored-Content Label

Watchdog Had Raised a Concern

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Recommendations from Taboola below an article on NBCSports.com.
Recommendations from Taboola below an article on NBCSports.com.
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American Express changed the label on articles from its content-marketing site, OPEN Forum, when those articles appear on other publishers' sites. The change comes after the National Advertising Division, the marketing industry's self-regulatory body, raised concerns about the label.

OPEN Forum publishes articles geared to small-business owners and includes links to American Express services. It distributes these posts across the web using services from Taboola, which places headlines and images at the bottom of articles that link to a mix of editorial and advertising content.

You might, for instance, read an article about Nascar driver Tony Stewart on NBCSports.com, where, at the bottom, headlines placed by Taboola tease stories from New York Magazine's The Cut blog ("Most Outrageous Gowns at the Met Gala") and OPEN Forum ("5 Things Successful People Do That Others Don't").

The NAD opened an inquiry into American Express's labeling because it felt readers might mistake OPEN Forum stories for "independent editorial content, rather than sponsored content," the organization said in a statement.

"We were concerned with whether the links had the potential to mislead consumers," Laura Brett, staff attorney at the NAD, told Ad Age.

Articles were previously labeled "OPEN Forum." But American Express has since changed them to say, "American Express OPEN" or "American Express OPEN Forum."

It's unclear whether American Express adjusted the labels because of pressure from NAD or under its own guidance. "American Express expends considerable time and effort to ensure transparency in its advertising practices," a spokeswoman said in an e-mail to Ad Age. "To ensure that all consumers know that OPEN Forum is a part of American Express, we expanded our labeling." The spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the statement.

Companies like Taboola and its competitor, Outbrain, have profited from the boon in sponsored content. Brands and publishers lean heavily on these services to drive traffic to their websites. But they've also caught the attention of the NAD, which has urged these so-called content-recommendation engines to better label articles so readers know whether they're clicking on editorial content or content from an advertiser. In May, the NAD called upon Taboola specifically to increase the visibility of its labels.