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A Checklist for Native Advertising: How to Comply with the FTC’s New Rules

February 07, 2016
Aaron Polmeer

By willcritchlow

Posted by willcritchlow

The FTC recently published their updated rules (and more accessible “guidance”) on what constitutes a “misleading” native advert [PDF]. I’ve read them. I only fell asleep twice. Then, near the end, a couple of bombshells.

But first, the background.

Native ads and the FTC

For those who haven’t been following the trends closely, native advertising is a form of digital advertising whereby adverts are included “in-stream,” interspersed with regular editorial content.

On social platforms, this takes the form of “promoted” posts — including stories or videos in your Facebook stream or tweets in your Twitter stream from brands you didn’t explicitly follow or “Like.” See, for example, this Coursera ad in my Facebook stream:

Native ads are particularly interesting on mobile, where the smaller screens and personal nature tend to make anything that isn’t in-stream intrusive or irrelevant.

For publishers, native advertising looks more like brand content presented as whole pages rather than as banners or advertising around the edges of the regular content. It can take the form of creative content promoting the brand, brand-funded “advertorial,” or anything in between. See, for example, this well-labelled advertorial on Autocar:

You might notice that this is actually a lot like offline magazine advertising — where “whole page takeovers” are common, and presented in the “stream” of pages that you turn as you browse. And in a similar way to the digital version, they can be glossy creative or advertorial that looks more like editorial content.

The big way that the digital world differs, however, is in the way that you find content. Most people turn pages of a magazine sequentially, whereas a lot of visitors to many web pages come from search engines, social media, email, etc. — essentially, anywhere but the “previous page” on the website (whatever that would even mean).

It’s this difference that has led the FTC to add additional regulations on top of the usual ones banning misleading advertising — the new rules are designed to prevent consumers from being misled if they fail to realize that a particular piece is sponsored.

For the most part, if you understood the spirit of the previous rules, the new rules will come as no surprise — and the newest parts mainly relate to ensuring that consumers are fully aware why they are seeing a particular advert (i.e. because the advertiser paid for its inclusion) and they are clear on the difference between the advert and the editorial / unpaid content on the publisher’s site.

At a high level, it seems very reasonable to me — the FTC wants to see clear disclosures, and will assess confusion and harm in the context of consumers’ expectations, the ways in which confusion would cause them to behave differently, and will take into account the rest of the publisher’s site:

The Commission will find an advertisement deceptive if the ad misleads reasonable consumers as to its nature or source, including that a party other than the sponsoring advertiser is its source. Misleading representations of this …read more

Source:: Moz Blog