American Express Modifies ‘Native Advertising’ Practices to Provide Greater Transparency

American Express, which operates the OPENForum.com website, has informed the National Advertising Division that it has modified its native advertising practices to assure that consumers who click on OPENForum images-plus-text “ad units” are aware that the content is sponsored by American Express.

NAD, an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation, examines advertising claims in all mediums for truth and accuracy.

American Express maintains “OPENForum” where it shares information designed for small business owners and offers links to other American Express cards and services.  American Express advertises the OPENForum site elsewhere on the Internet through the use of content “recommendation widgets” from Taboola, Inc.

In its initial review, NAD was concerned that the links to OPENForum placed in Taboola recommendation widgets could be understood by consumers to mean that they were being directed (linked) to independent editorial content, rather than sponsored content. The links consisted of a small picture, the title of the article – for example, “5 Body Language Poses that Can Sabotage Success” or “6 Ways for Women Business Owners to Stop Worrying,” and the link’s label, which read “OPEN Forum.”

American Express, in response to NAD’s inquiry, explained that “OPEN” is an American Express brand geared to small business owners, that the OPEN brand was clearly labeled on the links, and that the links brought users to the OPENForum site for articles containing advice for small business owners.

American Express further advised NAD that its labeling of links to articles on its OPENForum website had been permanently modified and such links are now labeled as either presented by “American Express OPEN” or “American Express OPEN Forum.”

The advertiser further noted that Taboola has in the past year begun the process of changing the “by Taboola” credit line to more clearly and conspicuously label identify its links as sponsored.

NAD appreciated that American Express voluntarily made changes to the label on links to its OPEN Forum website, and that the changes provided greater transparency to consumers regarding the website to which consumers would be directed, an action NAD deemed necessary and appropriate.

NAD, in an earlier case, reviewed the sufficiency of disclosures on the Taboola recommendation widget, including whether the disclosures made it clear that consumers were being linked to sponsored content, and recommended that the widget “increase the visibility of the “Sponsored Content” or “Promoted Content” disclosure in terms of font size, font color and boldness, as well as its placement on the page, to make clear that the linked content is sponsored.”

NAD’s Taboola decision also considered the label on links placed within a recommendation widget and “cautioned that the combination of the thumbnail photograph, article title, and name of the destination site on Taboola’s widget should convey a truthful and accurate message of the type of content to which consumers are linking. To the extent that a link does not accurately describe the content provided at the link, consumers can be misled.”

American Express, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “expends considerable time and effort to ensure transparency in its advertising practices so that consumers will understand when American Express has paid for the placement of its content, or links to its content, on third party sites and platforms.  As part of this effort, and as noted in this decision, American Express has developed guidelines for ‘native advertising’ placements emphasizing the importance of transparency, and directs its ad agencies to make placements on American Express’s behalf in conformity these guidelines.  While American Express believes that a link labeled “OPEN Forum” is completely consistent with these guidelines because such a label correctly identifies the source of the content … American Express made the decision to adopt longer labels to include ‘American Express’ to further ensure that readers would associate the linked content with American Express.  American Express appreciates NAD’s close and deliberative review of this matter.”