The FTC Doesn’t Understand Native Advertising, Either

Now tell us what you really think.

Looks like the Federal Trade Commission is just as confused as the general public when it comes to native advertising. They called this week’s conference on the topic to help clear the air on the newest version of a practice they’ve been trying to regulate since 1917, and the reaction was…mixed.

The FTC says that it intends to “vigorously enforce its rules against misleading advertising“, but no one’s quite sure what that means just yet. As one attendee put it, “The whole point of the word ‘sponsored’ is to avoid calling it what it is.”

Of course everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.

Forbes says native ads are the best thing since sliced bread and The Wall Street Journal editor calls them “a Faustian bargain” (Google it). Here’s another good point from the New York Times review:

Sponsored content on a medical website that offers information about a drug to treat a disorder but that does not talk about cheaper alternative treatments affects a consumer beyond the perception of the site’s credibility.

The biggest drop of the old ball came on the mobile front: since an increasing number of people read this stuff on their mobile devices, the organization will have to tweak whatever rules it eventually devises.

So yes, this is complicated. Duh. A former Ad Age editor called the whole shebang a “boatload of shit“, and it’s our job as writers to prove him wrong. No small task, that.

Because you didn’t ask, here are our generic conclusions:

  • Native ads are here to stay because they allow brands to more directly measure ROI via clicks and shares.
  • Also: in case you’ve heard, the public doesn’t much care for the hard sell anymore. So there’s that.
  • No one wants to label every sponsored post with a flashing “NATIVE ADVERTISING” sign.
  • At the same time, consumers demand transparency. If you don’t include a “sponsored by ___” on your next BuzzFeed GIF-fest, readers will get a little ticked when they figure it out.
  • Some companies will try to be sneaky by not making it clear that their articles are ads or failing to disclose their partnerships with publications. We look forward to making fun of them.

Any other ideas?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
Publish date: December 5, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT