Online advertising agencies are facing a potentially big headache in the U.S., as controversy about native advertising begins to heat up. Diligent art directors and account managers might want to take note that the FTC is threatening formal regulation unless the advertising industry gets a good deal clearer about the distinctions between native ads and non-promotional content online.
The issue that’s fomenting the new threat of enforced regulation is essentially to do with native advertising’s potential to confuse: it’s known to be more effective than banner ads, but sometimes the line between editorial and advertising content seems decidedly blurry. That’s what’s got the FTC’s sap rising.
Most art directors and account managers will be aware that the FTC has for long been on guard against ads that look too much like editorial content – it began signaling its disapproval as long ago as 1967. And it’s been keeping abreast of digital developments, having recently warned search engine leviathans like Bing and Google to start using far clearer visual cues to distinguish between regular search results and paid search and ads.
The FTC’s Director of Advertising Practices, Mary Engle, told Adweek magazine:
“Regardless of context, consumers should be able to tell what’s an advertising pitch, whether it’s an advertorial, an infomercial, word-of-mouth marketing or native advertising.”
Hardworking account managers and their creative art director colleagues in Adland shouldn’t view these words as empty suggestions. Advertising law expert Linda Goldstein says:
“Certainly, the search engine guidance should serve as an early warning to the industry that at some point in the future, unless the industry self-regulates, the FTC may be knocking on their door.”
New guidelines beckon
The Advertising Self-regulatory Council, which was set up to provide guidelines for advertisers to stop them inadvertently butting heads with regulators, agrees that new measures need to be developed. Its CEO, Lee Peeler, said:
“Conventions need to be developed, like they have for newspapers and infomercials on TV.”
And he’s no solitary voice. The IAB is starting to think in terms of guidelines and launched a native ad task force last month. As its Head of Brand Initiatives, Peter Minnium, puts it:
“There’s a huge amount of confusion in the market. There is an urgency for guidelines, but we have to get it right from the start.”