The FTC issued a pair of new advertising guidelines — the Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements and the Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses. What are the chief takeaways? Will the “new rules” have a massive effect on current marketing trends?
First Things First: The Current State of Native Advertising
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, aptly described native promotions as “product placement on digital steroids.”
“Product placement on digital steroids.”
Over the years, the practice has become exceptionally popular – and effective – partly because it’s tailored to search behavior. According to the Association of National Advertisers, two-thirds of surveyed members plan to increase embedded marketing spends this year.
Marketers love it for two key reasons:
- It’s more likely to be shared.
- It’s less intrusive than traditional advertising.
So, what, exactly, is “native advertising”? It’s promotional material that mimics the look and feel of a website. “Around the Web” links at the bottom of blog posts – (the guilty pleasure headlines) – are examples.
FTC Investigation: Is Native Advertising Deceptive?
Marketers may love native advertising, but the Federal Trade Commission– which is responsible for exterminating deceptive marketing – has always scrutinized the practice with a skeptical eye.
For years, pundits debated the ethics of “embedded promotions” crafted to look like normal content. Is it misleading? Does it trick users into clicking when they otherwise wouldn’t? The debate raged, and now, the FTC is adding its 10 cents.
To be clear: the FTC can’t throw people in jail for shirking its guidelines. The Commission is a quasi-governmental agency. Yes, a federal law created the FTC, and yes, a federal law grants it the authority to financially sanction businesses and individuals who engage in “unfair and deceptive” marketing.
New Native Advertising Guidelines
“People browsing the web, using social media, or watching videos have a right to know if they’re seeing editorial content or an ad.” ~ Jessica L. Rich, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
Important points of the native advertising guidelines
- The “net impression” counts.
- Make it crystal clear that native ads are promotional, not editorial, content.
- Don’t use the phrase “promoted stories” to demarcate native advertising from *normal* content. “Promoted,” in the eyes of the FTC, is too vague a word and can cause consumer confusion.
- Native advertisement disclosures should appear in the same frame as the ads themselves; they shouldn’t appear below the ads – especially if a user must scroll to see them.
Word on the street is that the new native advertising guidelines are clear, helpful and include clarifying images.
How Will Native Advertising Guidelines Affect The Marketing Industry?
Industry people are talking about the FTC’s native advertising guide. And it’s no wonder: content players feast on the stuff. Supposedly, a third of Gawker’s revenue comes from native advertising; Vox Media allegedly has an in-house ad agency to churn it out.
And, of course, opinions about the FTC’s latest native advertising treatise run from A to Z. Some people rolled their eyes and typed dirges about the commission’s investigative inconsistencies; or, in more colloquial terms, “The FTC is so mercurial that its guides are little help.” Middle-of-the-roaders seem to be taking the release in stride, making note of the FTC’s insistence on transparency.
A blog post on Marketing Land offered three predictions regarding the new guides:
- Some of the bigger native advertising players will either tap-out or incur fines.
- Native advertising will become less effective.
- Now that the FTC has weighed in, bigger brands may start using it more.
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Ember, Sydney. “F.T.C. Guidelines on Native Ads Aim to Prevent Deception.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/business/media/ftc-issues-guidelines-for-native-ads.html?_r=0>. Kulwin, Noah. “FTC Issues New Rules for Native Advertising on the Internet.” Recode. 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. <http://recode.net/2015/12/22/ftc-issues-new-rules-to-native-advertising-on-the-internet/>. Rodnitzky, David. “Now That The FTC Has Spoken On Native Advertising, What’s Next?” Marketing Land. 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. <http://marketingland.com/now-ftc-spoken-native-advertising-whats-next-158262>.