Brands want to be trusted by consumers and more than ever want to align with content and editorial that their consumers are engaged with online.  They are looking for something beyond a digital banner ad to speak to an online audience. This is the mindset that spurred the birth of online Native Advertising. Native advertising is embedded seamlessly into a website’s content and often blurs the lines between advertising and editorial in the eyes of the consumer.

Advertisers find this to be a unique and useful tool to reach their audiences;  using content rather than standard ad placements. They can reach their audience with content rather than through an overt brand message. Consumers are more likely to read the content, be engaged and trust the brand if they read and agree with an article written by their favorite website or news source. Native advertising has been utilized and gaining steam over the past few years. However, lately there has been some controversy as to whether or not native advertising looks enough like advertising.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines for native advertising in order to protect consumers from potential deception. These guidelines prescribe that all native advertising, if not obviously commercial, should be labeled explicitly as advertising. The guidelines enforce the following three main points:

  1. From the FTC’s perspective, the watchword is transparency.  An advertisement or promotional message shouldn’t suggest or imply to consumers that it’s anything other than an ad.

  2. Some native ads may be so clearly commercial in nature that they are unlikely to mislead consumers even without a specific disclosure.  In other instances, a disclosure may be necessary to ensure that consumers understand that the content is advertising.

  3. If a disclosure is necessary to prevent deception, the disclosure must be clear and prominent.

As you can imagine, The FTC received mixed feedback and critique from publishers, advertising organizations and advertisers themselves on their guidelines. Hufftingon Post’s VP of content creation said that "HuffPost believes it is good that the FTC has released guidelines because there is a lot of inconsistency in the market about Native ads. The key for us now, and always has been, that you must be utterly transparent and authentic with Native advertising." Others, such as the VP of Public Policy with the IAB did not have such positive feedback. "While guidance serves great benefit to industry, it must also be technically feasible, creatively relevant, and not stifle innovation," said VP Brad Weltman, "To that end, we have reservations about some elements of the Commission's Guidance."

Since the FTC issued this statement back in December of 2015, some publishers have been making changes and tweaks to their current native advertising format. The Guardian decided to re-label their articles that are paid for and controlled by advertisers from “brought to you by” to “paid content” or “paid for by.”  This makes it much clearer to a reader that the article was paid for by a brand. Similarly, independent content that is funded by sponsors but created by Guardian reporters will now be labeled “supported by” as opposed to formerly labeled as “sponsored by”. These small adjustments show that this publisher is committed to transparency with both its readers and advertising partners.

So what does all of this mean for advertisers? The FTC is calling for publishers to be 100% transparent with consumers about what is paid for by an advertiser and what is provided from a publisher. It means that publishers who comply with these guidelines are those that brands will want to align with. With more clarity, consumers will be able to trust and respect publishers and advertisers more. The more transparent publishers are with their readers, the more trustworthy all content on their site becomes, including ad content.