FTC to take closer look at “native advertising” trend

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.