Native Ads and the FTC

In December of 2015, the FTC came out with guidelines for advertisers on how to present native advertising.

Much of this seems to be straightforward. Clearly mark the advertising as advertising. The fact that they even had to say this is fairly surprising, but ultimately necessary. That’s because different websites use different labeling. Sites have used sponsored, sponsored content, partner content, and so on. No wonder we’re all confused. In print, it is much clearer with publishers saying “Advertorial” or “Sponsored Content.” But even there, the layouts have begun to look so much like an article it’s becoming hard and hard to tell.

In explaining how ads should be presenting the guidelines say the following about how disclosures should be:

  • in clear and unambiguous language;
  • for video ads, on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood;
  • and as close as possible to the native ads to which they relate;
  • in a font and color that’s easy to read;
  • in a shade that stands out against the background;
  • for audio disclosures, read at a cadence that’s easy for consumers to follow and in words consumers will understand

Compare this to how ads really look, such as on Facebook.

Facebook Native Ad

In this ad, you can barely see where it says “sponsored” (under Minted). More telling about how they don’t want you to be aware of it is the placement. Typically, underneath the name of your friend who is posting is the time stamp–something we’ve bee trained not to look at. Since we don’t look there for the vast majority of posts, there is not reason to think we would do it for an ad.

Thus, the advertising is read as if it was another piece of content. That’s why this is stealth. That’s why the FTC issued guidelines. That’s why the industry is not happy about it.