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What the FTC Native Advertising Guidance Really Means

While native ads can certainly be effective when implemented alongside editorial content, there are readers who find it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission recently released updated guidance on disclosures regarding native ads and clarity on how it will police what it views as content designed to deceive consumers.

This updated policy statement is more detailed than in the past and such guidelines are clearly needed since publisher disclosure of native ads is far from consistent. Furthermore, a recent study published in the Journal of Advertising shows that consumers have difficulty distinguishing between native advertising and non-sponsored editorial content.

The new enforcement policy and the business guidelines are a result of two years of study by the agency and include extensive examples of various types of sponsored and influencer marketing content. Alongside each example is the FTC’s recommendation of whether or not a disclosure is necessary, largely based on formatting that is similar to non-sponsored content on the same site and the level of endorsement communicated in the content. The guidelines also explicitly state how disclosures should be displayed to maximize the chance of a viewer understanding that the content contains an ad.

In general terms, the FTC states that advertisers “Should not use terms such as ‘Promoted’ or ‘Promoted Stories,’ which in this context are at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site.” Jessica L. Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, stated, “People browsing the web, using social media or watching videos have a right to know if they’re seeing editorial content or an ad.”

So what does this really mean? Take a look at responses around the web:

  1. Content Marketing experts Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose both expressed concern about the definition of the rules and how they work for digital content. On episode 111 of their This Old Marketing podcast, they liked the idea of standards but worried about how broadly the FTC is requiring disclosure and felt some aspects still seem fuzzy. While the guidelines state that any path to a piece of content needs to include a disclosure before the consumer sees it, Pulizzi said controlling every link (for example, if a consumer opts to share an article or finds it in search) seems unenforceable. They also noted that while the new documents focus on publishers, the definition of a publisher will be tough to distinguish. “You don’t need credentials to be a publisher so how do they differentiate from a corporate blog versus an actual publisher,” asked Pulizzi.
  2. The Interactive Advertising Bureau said in a statement that it lauded the FTC for spelling out detailed recommendations on native advertising but it still needs to study the guidelines more. “(The) IAB has been telling our members for years that ‘disclosure is not optional’ for native advertising,” said Brad Weltman, vice president of public policy at the IAB, in the statement. “At the same time, we want to evaluate more carefully the FTC’s specific recommendations, to assure they are technically feasible, creatively relevant, and do not stifle innovation.”
  3. While plenty of marketers are talking a lot about the new rules, legal experts are, too. The law firm of Winston & Strawn has already posted a brief video with their take on the new policy.

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About The Author

OUTDOORFLICS is a Digital Division of Adventure Advertising, LLC. With so many different ways to reach your audience, it’s important to stay on top of the latest tactics and trends in the ever evolving field of digital marketing. Follow us on linked in to stay informed.