Last week, the Federal Trade Commission held a summit, with delegates from many major digital companies, to try and gain some clarity on native advertising and to begin to develop a strategy on how to effectively regulate it. Native advertising, which as many know, embeds advertising designed to emulate a site’s traditional content in appearance, has been far more effective than traditional banner ads and has some industry pundits declaring that it represents the future of the marketing industry. Everyone seems to be extolling the virtues of this new ad format. Well, everyone except the FTC, that is.
The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with protecting consumers from a wide range of corporate behaviors, from monopolies to false advertising. Its event, entitled “Blurred Lines,” explored the hazy division between “legitimate” journalism and native advertising. Part of the struggle in determining how to properly regulate this new medium is that it’s so versatile — specifically, that it can take the form of almost any content on any site. If an advertisement imitates a movie trailer on a general content site like Buzzfeed, it may be considered perfectly fine, while an advertisement imitating an article on the Wall Street Journal’s website may cause consumers to believe it’s an actual news report or editorial.
The event covered a wide range of topics, from whether or not advertisers need to markedly identify native content in a manner that clearly separates it from editorial content, to how to graphically separate different types of content, to proper label language. All of these discussions centered on a theme of transparency, which all participants maintained was vital for the protection of consumers.
Although no consensus was reached on how to best regulate native advertising during the event, one is surely coming. Given the explosive growth of digital content and social media, some way to uniformly regulate native advertising is needed. Although this will inevitably curtail the variations on advertisements that are possible, it should still allow the medium to continue to flourish, particularly given its growing importance to the journalistic field.