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Summary:

So-called “native advertising” has caused a lot of buzz among publishers who hope it will be more effective than old-fashioned banner ads. It’s also attracting the attention of regulators.

Over the last year, media and marketing types have been repeating the term “native advertising” until they’re blue in the face and now it looks like people are finally paying attention — including the good folks at the Federal Trade Commission.

On Monday, the FTC announced that it will hold a workshop on December 4 about native advertising and the “blurring of digital ads with digital content.” In the meantime, the public can offer its two cents by sending in thoughts and idea topics for the workshop. Here’s an excerpt:

Increasingly, advertisements that more closely resemble the content in which they are embedded are replacing banner advertisements – graphical images that typically are rectangular in shape – on publishers’ websites and mobile applications.  The workshop will bring together publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and government regulators to explore changes in how paid messages are presented to consumers and consumers’ recognition and understanding of these messages.

If you’ve somehow missed it, “native advertising” refers to the idea of tarting up marketing messages to resemble the content that surrounds it. Archetypal examples include a promoted tweet within the Twitter stream or a sponsored BuzzFeed story (ie a listicle called “10 toys that make you feel nostalgic” purchased by a toy maker).

Some journalists and academics are fretting that native advertising confuses readers and undermines editorial standards; the topic flared up again this week after the New York Times’ media writer David Carr warned portentously that “Storytelling Ads May be Journalism’s New Peril.” (In May, Bloomberg reported that the Times itself is mulling sponsored stories and is consulting with BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti, one of the leading native ad apostles.)

Other are more sanguine about the topic, noting that so-called “advertorials” or “special advertising sections” have appeared for years in the country’s leading magazines and newspapers.

This is the second time this year FTC has vowed to take a closer look at online ad practices. In May, the agency issued new disclosure obligations related to small screen ads and social media.

  1. What about google ads that show up as search results? Many people dont know google’s first 3 links are advertisements.

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  2. Do we really need the FTC for this? Isn’t there a Darwinian principle at play here? Sites that don’t police this themselves will end up poisoning their own water, won’t they?

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    1. Perhaps, but the marketing madness needs to be reigned in somehow. Everyone wants to believe that online ads work when ROI is at best crap. So they will escalate this to insane levels if they believe it will get some sort of attention.

      Its funny how attention rarely leads to sales or appreciable brand strengthening in the high noise marketing world. I say save your money for search and email marketing. I sure as hell wont pay attention to you obstructing my Internet experience.

      Find your value proposition, because display aint going to do it.

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  3. This is good news for the industry. The problem is that several new ad providers have decided that instead of labeling their ad units as “ads” that they won’t place any labels and instead call their ads “content” or “content recommendation”. And while we know who they are, it’s a real problem because the ad providers that do abide by the rules and who do label their units properly are then forced to compete with those that have decided not to label their units. Which set of ads do you think gets a higher CTR, the one marked as “Advertising” or the one not marked with anything or worse marked with a header, “Recommended”. When the only innovation you bring to the market is deception, it’s time that a 3rd party come in and be the arbiter of what’s fair. The only other option is a race to the bottom and an enviable erosion of trust between publishers and consumers and advertisers and consumers. So the industry can either sue each other to create a fair playing field or get a little guidance to establish some clear rules of conduct everyone must play by.

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