Native Advertising – Keeping it Real

Native advertising, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is “content that bears a similarity to the news, feature articles, product reviews, entertainment, and other material that surrounds it online.” That definition may or may not be accurate. But considering the FTC is the arm of the government that regulates this stuff, it’s probably a good idea to use it. And that definition explains the conundrum that native advertising presents.

One of the reasons native advertising looks like “the content that surrounds it” is so people won’t skip over it. And while that makes business sense, the FTC worries that it’s potentially deceptive. From the FTC’s perspective, a consumers have the right to know what they’re getting into when they look at content. If consumers get sucked in by what looks like editorial content, only to be exposed to advertising, that’s a problem.

But hey, as the famous saying goes, “the FTC is from the government and we’re here to help.” And that help comes in the form of a publication called “Native Advertising: A Guide for Business.” If you or you marketing firm are using (or thinking about using) native advertising, this is mandatory reading. And the good news is, it’s actually readable. One of the most helpful parts is a series of examples. Let’s take a look at a few of the examples in quiz form and see how my readers perform. The correct answers are set forth below.

Example 1:
Fitness Life, an online health and fitness magazine, features articles about exercise, training advice, and product reviews. An article on Fitness Life’s main page is titled “The 20 Most Beautiful Places to Vacation.”  The article displays images in a scrolling carousel of beautiful spots for fitness enthusiasts to visit. The Winged Mercury Company paid Fitness Life to create this article and publish it on Fitness Life’s site.  The article says it is “Presented By” Winged Mercury and includes an image of the company’s logo. Although Winged Mercury’s sponsorship of the article is a form of advertising, the article itself is not, as it does not promote any of Winged Mercury’s products.

Question 1: Does the article require additional disclosures?  

Example 2:
Fitness Life publishes an article entitled “The 20 Most Beautiful Places to Vacation.”  No sponsoring advertiser paid Fitness Life to publish the article. However, a resort hotel pays Fitness Life to display a photo of its beach resort as the twenty-first image displayed in the article. The photo has the same look and feel as the images featured in the article.

Question 2 : Does the article require additional disclosures?

Example 3:
The Winged Mercury Company disseminates an ad on Fitness Life. The ad is similar in format and content to regular articles on the site. The headline “Running Gear Up: Mistakes to Avoid” appears next to a photo of a runner. In addition to other training suggestions, the article recommends Winged Mercury shoes for injury prevention.  Consumers can access the article either from the Fitness Life main page or directly without viewing that page.

Question 3: Does the article require additional disclosures?

Answer to Question 1:

No. Although Winged Mercury’s sponsorship of the article is a form of advertising, the article itself is not, as it does not promote any of Winged Mercury’s products. It only contains images of places where readers – including potential Winged Mercury customers – might like to visit. Thus, the article does not need to be identifiable as an ad before or after consumers click into it.

Answer to Question 2: 
Yes. There is no need to disclose to consumers on the Fitness Life main page that the article is accompanied by advertising. However, because the photo appears to be part of the article rather than an advertisement, a clear and prominent disclosure of the photo’s paid nature on the click-into page is likely necessary.

Answer to Question 3:
Yes. In this instance, consumers are likely to conclude that the article was written by a Fitness Life journalist and reflects the journalist’s independent views. To prevent consumer deception, a clear and prominent disclosure of the ad’s commercial nature on the main page of the publisher’s site is necessary. In addition, because consumers can access the article without clicking through from the Fitness Life main page, the ad on that click-into page also should be clearly and prominently identified as commercial.

Answer Key

0-1 Correct.  Call me when you get the FTC subpoena.
2 Correct. To Quote Meatloaf, “Two Out Three Ain’t Bad.”
3 Correct. Awesome. Let me know how you do on this one.