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FTC Organizes a Workshop On Native Advertising and Confuses Itself

Scratching headYeah, the headline is correct. The Federal Trade Commission is trying to put together its case for or against native advertising. Unfortunately, the agency isn’t sure about the true nature of native ads and admitted as much following its own conference. Leave it to a government agency to, in effect, confuse itself.

Adweek reports

A day-long examination of native advertising left regulators with no clear direction about how to police what has become digital media’s hottest ad format.

The Federal Trade Commission, which organized the workshop, has been bringing cases against ads masquerading as editorial content since 1917 (the first case was against a newspaper ad for an electric vacuum cleaner). But digital media has put what the FTC once termed “masquer-ads” on steroids.

Worried that consumers might be confused by native ads, the FTC was looking to the workshop to help figure out if the agency should issue additional guidance to help advertisers and publishers steer clear of enforcement action.

But after hearing from all parts of the industry, from academicians to publishers and ad networks, FTC officials said they would have to think about the next steps.

“This has raised more questions than it answered,” said Mary Engle, the FTC’s associate director of the advertising practices division.

So while yet another government agency feels like it has to have control over everything in business, the real folks they should be focused on, the consumer, may not be as worried about native ads as the FTC wants to believe. Heaven forbid, the public actually state their general feeling about a matter. Regardless, the FTC is likely to keep moving ‘forward’ because they ‘know what’s best’ for poor citizens not smart enough to take care of themselves. Maybe the feds should just back away and relax for a bit but don’t count on that.

Even the recent studies on how consumers react to native advertising proved inconclusive. Research conducted by Prof. David Franklyn of the University of San Francisco School of Law found that a growing number of consumers simply don’t care if the content is paid or unpaid; 50 percent don’t even know what the word “sponsor” means.”

“The market has overwhelmingly blurred the lines in a way consumers have accepted because search is free and the Internet is largely free. If consumers had to pay, they might get more annoyed. The consumer has been conditioned to acquiesce to anything people in this room can think of to make money,” said Prof. Franklyn.

We’re no strangers to native advertising here at Marketing pilgrim where our channel sponsors get the chance to create content that is labeled as sponsored. We try to make sure that the content is good, not salesly and will benefit our readers. If our readers decide to investigate more about our channel sponsors they do so knowing they had been exposed to the advertiser and not deceived.

So what is your take on native advertising? Why is it a problem if it is identified clearly and properly? What level of involvement should the government have in establishing minimum standards/guidelines?

Maybe next time the FTC could organize something more remedial so it doesn’t chase after its own tail trying to tread where they might be better served by playing in the shadows.

Thoughts?

  • michael bian

    Nice words here, I love the flow here

  • geofflivingston

    I attended the workshop and feel like this opinion is out of context. The many experts in attendance were also unsure of where the lines are drawn with native advertising. Facilitating a conversation on the topic at this kind of level is useful, as it helps all of us grapple with the ethics.