October 8, 2019: Facebook releases new messaging features across family of apps; Brands lean into product placements and integrations in OTT; The rise of influencer-launched apps; Audio influencers have arrived; Taboola and Outbrain merge

Zuck & Co. Keep Messaging in the Family

The Story

It’s been a busy week for Facebook’s family of apps with the release of new features primarily geared towards messaging. 

What’s been going on at Instagram?

Two major updates: The first, called Threads, is a new app that allows users to communicate with a small group of people, automatically sharing photos, videos, and statuses. If you’re thinking “this sounds similar to Instagram’s ‘Close Friends’ feature,” you wouldn’t be wrong. The major difference with Threads is that you’ll now have a dedicated inbox and notifications just for your close friends. 

Second, Instagram introduced AR “Try On” Ads for select brands on the platform (Mac, NARS, Warby Parker, and Rayban to start, but Instagram is planning for a full roll-out in the coming months). ICYMI, AR “Try On” Ads already exist on Facebook and they allow brands to add AR “Try-On” features to product pages. 

And… none for Instagram’s Activity Tab. #RIP

What about at Facebook?

Facebook has introduced Send Message CTAs in Stories Ads, meaning brands on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger can now use the “swipe-up” feature to drive ad traffic to start conversations on Messenger – all without ever leaving the app. While Facebook has provided the Send Message CTA for other ad types since 2016, and added messages as a direct objective in 2017, the ad unit had not previously existed in Stories. 

And WhatsApp?

WhatsApp has been testing a “self-destructing messages” feature that would allow users to set a timer for messages in conversations with someone, and those messages will then disappear after the specified time. 


As Facebook continues to combine the messaging functions of its Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram apps, and as Zuckerberg continues to emphasize the role of private messaging in the future of the company, it’s not surprising that the majority of these updates are centered around messaging. 

On the Instagram front, specifically, Threads isn’t the platform’s first venture into the standalone messaging app space (#RIP to Direct); it is, however, the first venture that directly emphasizes group sharing (vs. 1:1 sharing). This supports the notion that 85 percent of the messages shared on the platform are distributed to the same three friends, emphasizing the desire for more intimate sharing. 

As with any new app, the newness of Threads makes for ample greenspace for marketers. To start, marketers can begin testing the app by creating an invite-only branded group of influencers on Threads to understand (or co-create) the rules of engagement and set the groundwork for the first breakthrough campaign. 


Streaming Service Providers Lean Into Product Placements

The Story

With viewers spending more time watching programming on streaming services — many of which don’t carry ads or offer ad-free versions — brands are finding other ways to get in front of their target audiences through product placements and brand integrations

Go on… 

While some streaming service platforms have in-house teams dedicated to brand placement and integration opportunities (e.g. Hulu), on other platforms (e.g. Netflix), the process is often less direct, resulting in paid integrations being coordinated through other channels/entities, like Viacom. As Hulu’s VP and Head of Integrated Marketing, Nicole Sabatini, says, “When a show is greenlit, my team immediately talks to the producers and the studio of that particular show to have a general conversation around having brand stories woven [in]. Simultaneously, we’re having ongoing conversations with advertisers. It’s an ever-evolving collaboration.” 

Let’s talk through the pros and cons of advertising in this space. 

There’s no denying that OTT presents an ample opportunity for brands to capture millions of highly engaged eyeballs – eyeballs that don’t have access to ad-blocking technologies to “skip” over product placements literally placed inside of the content they’re viewing. Additionally, the absence of traditional ads tends to result in less noise, making product placements and integrations more likely to capture attention. 

The downsides? Advertisers aren’t able to drive a brand’s messaging home with multiple spots, which, when considering the principles of reach and frequency, make a viewer’s likelihood to take action and buy the product extremely low. So for marketers who are advertising in this space, best practice is to complement product placements with additional frequency; in other words, marketers will need to figure out ways to retarget via OTT exposures. This may be difficult at first because the measurement options in this space are virtually non-existent. But as the space becomes more sought after, it’s likely that marketers will have access to this data in the future. 


As we continue to see the industry shift towards the production of original, long-form content, with that comes the monetization of that content with product placements and integrations. We’re also seeing influencers get into the mix as platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube are making it easier to create long-form content. Not only is some of this content virtually indistinguishable from publisher and studio content, but it also introduces confusion around rules for FTC disclosures. It’s clear when influencers have to disclose product placements, but guidelines for disclosures within TV shows and movies are not held to the same standards. 

Will studios be required to disclose per FTC guidelines in the same way that influencers have to? Or, will the lobbying power and might of Hollywood create new and more innovative ways to disclose that are more engaging and interactive and bring viewers even closer to the point of purchase? If the latter is the case, we could see the way FTC disclosures work today dissolve and become replaced with new ways of disclosing. 


The Rise of Influencer-Launched Apps

The Story

Danielle Bernstein, the influencer behind @WeWoreWhat, has launched a workflow tool for influencers.

Tell me more.

The tool, called MOE, automates influencers’ workflows, organizes multiple projects and campaigns, and sends invoices for brand deals to collect payment. According to Bernstein, MOE is designed for micro-influencers in charge of their own businesses who aren’t quite big enough to hire their own teams yet. MOE operates via subscription at $27.99 per month with the first 30 days free and, despite the tool being largely self-funded by Bernstein herself, MOE has also raised $1.2 million in seed funding from private investors, including Rebecca Minkoff. 

To learn more about how the platform actually works for influencers, see here

What’s Bernstein saying?

“None of the [platforms] out there address the needs of influencers themselves. We want to put the power back in the influencer’s hands … and it’s created by someone who knows the workflow best.” – Danielle Bernstein, Founder and CEO of MOE


Bernstein is no stranger to building and launching brands. However, unlike her previous brand-building ventures involving physical products, MOE is her first software technology venture. For MOE, specifically, marketers benefit from being held accountable and knowing influencers have a way to manage tasks and follow through on a campaign, while influencers are able to better negotiate and keep themselves organized. It’s a win-win.

Bernstein is paving the way for influencers to launch not just influencer-to-consumer (ITC) brands, but also influencer-to-influencer (ITI) brands. In the near-term, based on Bernstein’s launch, it will be interesting to observe if other influencers (or brands) begin following suit,  launching products/services designed to meet influencers’ needs. 


Listen Up: The Audio Influencer Has Arrived

The Story 

The audio influencer has arrived. Gen Z knows it and you should too. 

What the heck is an audio influencer?

Think of your favorite podcast or radio station. Do you actually know what the host(s) looks like? Probably not. Although these individuals may not amass the same following on Instagram as your favorite fashion blogger (or maybe they do), these individuals are highly influential based on the fact that 22 percent of Americans listen to podcasts weekly

Gen Z-ers are leading the way in podcast consumption – forty percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 listened to a podcast last month — a 10 percent jump from 2018.Gen Z-ers increasingly feel like they spend too much time on screens, the rise in popularity of music streaming services and podcasts has resulted in 48 percent shifting to music or podcasts to escape screens. In doing so, Gen Z is turning to Spotify, listening to 1.5 to 2.5 hours of content daily. 

Where is this trend stemming from?

The desire to connect. Not only are 58 percent of Gen Z-ers connected online with someone abroad, but 38 percent describe themselves as global citizens. Additionally, 63 percent turn to music to talk about and express their feelings, feeding into the power of music/audio to aid in that self-expression. 


As we continue to undergo a resurgence of audio – not just through podcasts but through radio, as well – the industry is beginning to adopt a streaming-like business model. Take iheartradio and Sirius XM. Whereas Sirius is a subscription-based channel streaming platform, iheartradio functions like Spotify pre-premium, allowing the user to create playlists and share them with ad spots integrated into the listening experience. Radio ads are more affordable than ever, which has lowered the barrier to entry for brands looking to get involved. 

While Gen Z (among other generations) continues to spend its time consuming audio, this presents a new channel for marketers to connect with their audiences in meaningful ways. Marketers will be better able to match their products or services to a highly targeted audience. In this sense, authenticity will be imperative. As with visual influencers, listeners trust these hosts to be unapologetically themselves and provide them with the content that they keep coming back for. While this is a new and exciting platform that’s used to ad integration, it’s important to still source and vet audio influencer partnerships like you would any other.

The Best of Both Worlds – Taboola and Outbrain Merge (Finally)

The Story

Finally, Taboola and Outbrain merge in an effort to become a native advertising powerhouse.

Finally! Give me the details.

Taboola will acquire Outbrain for $250 million and 30 percent equity. The joint company will be able to create a “content recommendation monolith” that is set to grant marketers access to a new scaled player. In a market dominated by Google and Facebook, and with Amazon on their heels, this could be a welcome addition to drive innovation through competition in the industry. 

I feel like there’s history here…

The two companies have been rivals for years, so the merger comes with both excitement for what it could mean for publishers and hesitation around the potential outcomes. On the one hand, publishers have expressed concern about the merger creating a race to the bottom with pricing options, since, historically, their business models have involved cutting a large guarantee and revenue share deals for exclusivity agreements, raising the likelihood of pushing competitors into offering lower pricing options.

In terms of the level of service and quality, due to a potential inability to “pitch their quality control or safeguards against each other,” experts worry that the quality of ads could fall in an effort to create a more attractive offering as quickly as possible. On the other hand, with more resources, it’s also possible that the more low-quality advertisements will be filtered out. 

What’s “Taboolabrain” saying?

The joint company is promising a sizable alternative to Google and Facebook for advertisers. Between the two of them, they have large clients such as CNBC, CNN, and The Washington Post, and reach more than 2.5 billion people per month.

They’re also promising efficiency for those advertisers looking to purchase sponsored links across the web and an increase in revenue for publishers in the mobile carrier and handset manufacturing industry due to investment in technology and product development. Overall, they’re hoping to “double and triple” revenue for clients as “a bigger entity should encourage more advertisers to consider switching a portion of their search and social spend to advertising on the open web.”


So what does this mean for publishers? Previously, Taboola and Outbrain were able to go to a publisher and strike a deal, giving the publisher power to pit the two companies against each other in an effort to get the best possible revenue share. Now, both companies have better leverage in those revenue share negotiations. 



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