Native Advertising: Can Digital Publisher’s Self – Regulate?

Zintro Native Advertising PhotoThe Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it will host a workshop December 4, 2013 in Washington, DC to evaluate the use of native advertising on the web. It will be the first time the FTC addresses this specific advertising issue. Native advertising is a practice that involves placing ads in the context of visual media, in effect placing ads within the content. The concern is that native advertising is causing confusion among web users who mistake these ads, appearing on social media sites and in emails, as actual content

Christophor Rick, an advertising analyst and online video expert with Three-Faced Media, says, “I covered this about a year ago when the term ‘native advertising’ was still new for video. Honestly, it’s the most deceptive form of advertising online. The whole premise of the ‘native’ advertisement is that it does, in fact, look like content. That’s its whole purpose, an advertisement, clothing itself in the skin of content. Therefore, by definition, it’s deceptive.”

There are no plans for FTC regulations at this time, but the issue has become a concern in the digital publishing industry. Many industry members question whether the FTC needs to become involved at all. Research released by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) back in July showed the question of labeling native advertising was a serious issue among its members. However, OPA members are more interested in self-regulation than having the FTC step in.

This past June the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced it would establish a taskforce on native advertising with the purpose of exploring best practices. IAB also agreed to participate in the FTC’s December workshop if invited. As far as Rick is concerned, “The FTC should absolutely regulate this, preferably, out of existence. It defies every ‘truth in advertising’ policy in the country, as it tries to fool the user into thinking it’s not advertising at all.”

Mitchell Toews, an expert in product and brand management, shares similar thoughts about native advertising. “If the ad is specious and confused the receiver into [asking the question] ‘Who is this message from?’ then it flunks. Gauging intent is tough, but if the most brash obfuscators were exposed and made to suffer via banishment and shamed in a digital public stock; then maybe communal, self-regulatory practices would suffice.”

Although the FTC has dealt with areas such as infomercials and advertorials, the upcoming workshop will be a new examination.  In the meantime, the digital publishing industry will be responsible for its own regulation.

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