Does WPP want to take over the world of content, too?

As the line between content and marketing continues to blur, WPP subsidiary Kantar has just announced the acquisition of the Guardian's data visualisation arm.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Mar 2015

Interesting that Kantar, ad giant WPP’s research and data subsidiary, has announced its acquisition of a majority stake in the Guardian Digital Agency, the wing of the Guardian which produces those beautiful data visualisations it sometimes does (its blog has been removed following the acquisition, but you can see some of its past work – plus quite a lot of other people’s work – here).

Although Kantar hasn’t disclosed how much it paid for the agency, by recent takeover standards it’s unlikely to have been earth-shaking: GDA only employs 13 people (although when Facebook bought Whatsapp for $19bn, it only had 50 employees – so that’s not necessarily a good indicator for these things).

But the fact Kantar has invested in a pure content company is an indication of the way the industry is going: although GDA (now renamed ‘Graphic’ by Kantar) works with commercial marketing firms to help them jazz up their campaigns, the agency sprang from The Guardian, ie. a business that focuses on content first, and monetising it second.

Lines between content and marketing have been blurring for some time now, with companies like Buzzfeed relying entirely on ‘native ads’ – sponsored content – rather than display (the kind of ads you see, for the most part, on MT). There’s an argument that it’s more useful to readers than banners flashing or (worse) making sounds at them – although others point out that even when it’s clearly labelled as such, readers sometimes click unwittingly on native ads without realising they’re sponsored.

Either way, this acquisition is a clear sign of the way the world of online content is going. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

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