Make us your home page
Instagram

Regulators have a warning for ads that masquerade as real content

These stories from the New York Post’s website are examples of the type of content the FTC is scrutinizing more closely.

These stories from the New York Post’s website are examples of the type of content the FTC is scrutinizing more closely.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission has rolled out new guidelines for websites that want to publish "native ads" — advertisements designed to look like "real" content on the page you're visiting.

That tactic has become a mainstay of sites such as BuzzFeed, which largely eschews traditional banners for ads that merely blend in with the publication's various listicles, polls and other content. The Atlantic, the Huffington Post and the New York Times have experimented with native advertising. So has the Washington Post, under a program called BrandConnect.

Native ads are said to be more attractive to marketers and publishers because they are more effective at engaging consumers. With the ubiquity of traditional banner ads that are often intrusive and annoying, ads that blend in with regular content have emerged as a lucrative alternative. But the format has regulators worried that consumers will be unable to distinguish between editorial content and marketing aimed at persuading them to buy things.

Native ads that are deemed "misleading" will risk running afoul of the FTC, which is specifically charged with policing deceptive business practices. But drawing the line between benign native ads and unacceptable attempts at persuasion has proved incredibly complicated — as the FTC's guidelines show.

Suppose you saw an image of a sports car on a news website followed by a headline that looked exactly like all the others, except that it said, "Come and Drive (name of car) Today." That specific example would be fine, according to the FTC's guidelines, because it would be "inherently obvious to consumers" that it was an advertisement.

But other examples might not get such latitude. The FTC's guidelines go on to consider how businesses can appropriately signal, or disclose, to consumers that what they're looking at is an advertisement.

"Depending on the circumstances, a disclosure in the text of an article may not remedy a misleading impression created by the headline," the agency wrote, "because reasonable consumers might glance only at the headline" and not click through to the article containing the disclosure.

In other words, a headline that doesn't tell the reader "I'm an advertisement" in an unambiguous way could be problematic.

Ultimately, the FTC's intention is to get marketers and publishers to be clearer. Yet the trend toward publishing more ambiguous advertisements — backed by increasingly detailed data on consumers' personal browsing habits — suggests how contentious the FTC's guidelines could be in practice.

"What's needed is a 21st century set of safeguards that enable consumers to control the data used to deliver them ads, especially for formats like native that are specially designed to be disguised as content," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy.

Regulators have a warning for ads that masquerade as real content 12/24/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2015 6:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming

    Roads

    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24

    Retail

    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights

    Business

    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.

    Yet.

    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]