The Federal Trade Commission building.


WASHINGTON — What, exactly, are the new ground rules with native advertising?

The Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines contain examples that companies should follow to ensure consumers know they’re viewing an advertisement or promotional message and not editorial content.

As reported, the FTC issued an enforcement policy statement on Tuesday, advising businesses on how to provide transparency in their ads and to avoid running afoul of the commission and potentially face significant civil penalties.

The commission laid out 17 specific examples of hypothetical native ads that might not need disclosures and others where disclosures would be necessary. Companies should weigh several factors, including the ad’s overall appearance, the similarities between the ad’s written, spoken or visual style or subject matter compared to non-commercial content, and the degree to which the ad is distinguishable from a publisher’s other content.

Advertisers do have flexibility in how they identify native ads, the FTC said, as long as “consumers notice and process the disclosure and comprehend what they mean.”

Some of the key do’s and don’ts that the FTC suggested for advertisers are:

  • Use clear terms that will likely be understood by consumers, such as “Ad,” “Advertisement,” “Paid Advertisement,” “Sponsored Advertising Content” or a similar variation.
  • Avoid using terms such as “Promoted” or “Promoted Stories,” which the FTC said are “at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site.”
  • Using terms such as “Presented by, Brought to you By, Promoted By or Sponsored By” could increase the risk of consumers misunderstanding that it is an advertisement or that it might be endorsed by the publisher, an FTC attorney explained.
  • Avoid using technical or industry jargon, different terminology about the same thing in different places on the publisher site that could cause confusion, and unfamiliar icons or company logos and brand names that are not associated with a clear text disclosure.
  • Place disclosures on the main page of a publisher site and in front of or above a native ad’s headline, to ensure consumers notice them and easily associate the ad content with the disclosure. The FTC also advises that if the focal point of the ad is an image, the disclosure “might” need to appear directly on the focal point.
  • If a disclosure relates to more than one native ad, an advertiser should provide “visual clues” to make it clear the disclosure relates to all ads in that grouping. In addition, if an ad is republished in “non-paid” search results, social media, e-mail or other media, the disclosure should remain.
  • Disclosures should be placed at the point where consumers will first look when they arrive on the click-or-tap-into page and they be delivered to consumers in the context of multimedia ads before they receive the ad message.
  • Ensure that background shading is “sufficiently saturated” for the consumer to notice it and make a distinction.
  • Multimedia ads that contain an audio message “may” require an audio disclosure that should be presented in a “sufficient” volume so that consumers can hear and understand them. Video disclosures in multimedia ads should stay on the screen long enough for consumers to notice, read and understand them.
  • Make disclosures “stand out.”
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