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Outbrain Unveil: Re-imagining native advertising in the post-pandemic future

By Stefano Hatfield | Branded Content Editor

February 22, 2021 | 7 min read

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If Covid has taught marketers anything, it is the need for agility and being able to understand what customers are thinking, how they prefer to be communicated with and what the right messaging mechanisms are. These were the messages to emerge from Outbrain Unveil, an event that explored these consumer shifts, and discussed key product innovations for marketers in 2021.


With so much time spent consuming content on the open web, how do marketers engage consumers and capture their attention?

In a broad debate ranging from optimisation techniques to improving perception of native advertising, the co-CEOs of Outbrain, Yaron Galai and David Kostman launched Native Awareness+, an Outbrain product featuring a range of rich, In-Article formats for the open web. Promising zero brand adjacency, high viewability and consumer engagement, Native Awareness+ supports creative assets used for display, social and video, and brings them to-life on the open web.

Guest appearances from senior marketers and agency leaders brought real insight into what this year will bring. Anne Sophie Cruque, CEO France, Starcom Mediavest Group anticipated a renewed focus in 2021 on meaningful content; Constantine Kamaras, co-founder and chairman emeritus, IAB Europe, described how marketers were waiting for the synthesis of the post Covid world; what stays with us from life pre-pandemic, and what goes.

Meanwhile, Marco Sorrentino, director, content and product development, Publicis Groupe, argued that the pandemic has allowed even the most digitally backward countries to fill the gap that has emerged over the past few years, while Morgan Chemij, senior marketing director, CRM & Global UK, HP focused on that requirement for agility.

Outbrain’s Kostman contended 2020 was “like a technology time machine”: “Trends that we saw emerging slowly through the years became a reality almost overnight: remote working to remote learning, remote gaming, shopping, dating, socialising suddenly all went online, and that had a massive impact on businesses and how they sell, market and grow the customer base.”

For his co-CEO Galai, 2020 highlighted once again the need for a free and open press. The contrast was clear between the need to stay close to family and friends on social media and the hunger for reliable news from “trustworthy” news sites, which Kostman said had enjoyed a 60% increase in page views during the pandemic. This led to the rise in native advertising seen in 2020: a growth set to continue into 2021.

With so much time spent consuming content on the open web, how do marketers engage consumers and capture their attention? “Native ads with a single image and headline can only go so far,” said, Ayal Steiner, VP, global advertising at Outbrain - a theme taken up by Lauren Pica, Outbrain’s head of marketing, North America, as she discussed how Outbrain has innovated to bring even more formats to the open web this year.

“Most consumers don’t like advertising not because they don’t like ads, but because of the way ads are delivered,” she said. “Creative matters, how our ads appear matters; where they live makes all the difference. In 2020, we created a range of new experiences; engaging for the consumer, ROAS-friendly for the brand. Now, you can add call to action buttons to any format, we're bringing together multiple images across a carousel, doing double duty of storytelling and interactivity. My favourite is click-to-watch video. It’s a consumer-first video experience that drives 100% viewability, because the viewer chooses to play the video.”

The “whole self” will be key to understanding consumers in 2021. “Our social self is not our whole self,” Pica continued. “On my CNN feed right now, they're serving me content, beyond news headlines, that I am interested in. That's because what Outbrain knows about you goes beyond what you're searching for, or what brands you follow. It's the real you.”

Native ads work better because they are relevant to our actual interests. They perform better than paid search. If 2020 accelerated consumers’ higher expectations of brands, 2021 will bring better ad experiences with higher relevance. With so much expected of marketers, the focus on optimizing campaigns will be even sharper.

However, “optimising campaigns to drive the right result at the right price is time-consuming,” Steiner noted. “This year, the expectation from marketing is through the roof; everyone has to work with fewer resources and deliver stronger results. So you have to get smarter. Work with smarter tools that save you time and allow you and your team to be more efficient.”

Veronica Gonzalez, Outbrain’s global head of business and legal affairs, pointed to two tools that will come to the fore in 2021: “conversion bid strategy”, which is like putting your campaign on auto-pilot; setting cost per acquisition goals and a return on adspend as a ROAS goal; and “OB code” for when clients want to increase or decrease daily budget caps or adjust CPC.

But, how to reach consumers on the device we spend so much of our lives on: the mobile phone? As Faye Liddle-Moore, Outbrain’s commercial director for northern Europe, explained, many marketers struggle to deliver the right message in that (mobile) moment in the right way. Liddle-Moore introduced Outbrain’s new Native Awareness+ format, as enabling “highly visible, beautiful creative in the right moment”. They appear “centre stage in the middle of articles” at full width, with a vertical image or video, showcasing just the one brand. The time an ad stays on screen could increase from 1.7 seconds in social media to 7 seconds on the open web. Liddle-Moore cited a Premium Fashion Brand as one client that signed up to Native Awareness+, a decision which allowed it to host “beautiful creative and pack in a lot more information than traditional banner ads”. The click-through rate was a remarkable four times stronger than a traditional banner ad across the open web.

Investing in ads on the open web allowed Outbrain to put $2billion back into the publishing industry. This, says Salma Echahly, Outbrain’s first diversity and inclusion officer is crucial at a time when “advertising for good” is to the fore, whether it be Coca-Cola, the NBA and WNBA promoting Black Lives Matter; or Nike and Intel supporting responses to the pandemic.

Advertising for good, the boom in programmatic, more publishers switching into e-commerce, the imminent demise of the third-party cookie, new first-party data propositions and working from home with ever more lean and nimble teams were some of the trends further explored in Outbrain Unveil. All fall under the banners of agility or understanding the new consumer mindset as the limitations of social media and the potential of the open web become clearer. Re-imagining native advertising is key to success in this new environment.

If you missed the event, you can catch the on-demand version here.

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Outbrain (Nasdaq: OB) is a leading technology platform that drives business results by engaging people across the open internet. Outbrain predicts moments of engagement to drive measurable outcomes for advertisers and publishers using AI and machine learning across more than 7,000 online properties globally. Founded in 2006, Outbrain is headquartered in New York with offices in Israel and across the United States, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and South America. To learn more, visit

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