And now a word from our sponsor: FTC announces "native ad" workshop

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It used to be pretty clear.  The entertainment portion of a show ended and the commercials began.  The two-column article ran on one side of the newspaper and the ad ran on the other.  Or the webpage had the content in the middle with a banner ad running across the top.  Things are more complicated now.  Some call it “native advertising” or “sponsored content.”  Whatever the name, it’s for sure ads in digital media are starting to look a lot like the surrounding content.  What are the consumer protection implications now that those lines appear to be blurring?  That’s the topic of an FTC workshop on December 4, 2013 — and you’re invited.

It may seem like the trendy topic du jour.  But if you’ve been following what the FTC has been up to for the past, um, 100 years or so, you’ll know this is a subject of long-standing agency interest.  Recent updates to Search Engine Advertising guidance, .com Disclosures Opus 2000 and 2013, the Endorsements Guides, and decades of law enforcement actions challenging deceptive infomercial formats, bogus news websites, and the like.  It’s all part of the same discussion:  Is the distinction between regular content and advertising clear to consumers?

You’re welcome to send us your research, suggestions for topics, and examples and mock-ups to use as illustrations at the workshop.  Interested in throwing your hat into the ring as a proposed panelist?  We’d like to hear from you.

To get the conversation started, here are some questions we’re asking ourselves:

  • What is the origin and purpose of the wall between regular content and advertising?  What challenges do publishers face in maintaining that wall in digital media, including mobile?
  • In what ways are paid messages integrated into — or presented as — regular content?  Does it look different within mobile apps or on smart phones?
  • What business models support the monetization and display of native or integrated ads?  Who controls how these ads are served up for consumers?
  • How can ads effectively be differentiated from regular content?  Are there labels or visual cues that would work?  What about when paid messages are aggregated — for example, in search results — or re-transmitted through social media?
  • What does research show about how consumers notice and understand paid messages that are integrated into, or presented as, news, entertainment, or other content?  Does it matter how consumers seek out, receive, and view content online or in mobile apps?   Does that affect if they notice and understand these messages as paid content?

Let us know what you’re thinking by filing an online comment.  To nominate yourself as a panelist, email by October 29, 2013, with a statement explaining your background in the area.

The December 4th workshop — it’s free and open to the public — will be held at the FTC’s satellite building conference center, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., in Washington, DC.  We’ll post a detailed agenda later.



Kudos to the FTC for always staying attentive to the latest iterations in advertising. I recently spoke at a conference where more than one speaker touted "native advertising" as the best way to "sell" to consumers without the unseemly necessity of disclosures. When I noted that from my vantage as an attorney and instructor of Social Media Law at Rutgers, all the disclosure requirements, however blatantly ignored, still applied, and that it would only be a matter of time before the FTC addressed the matter, some scoffed. I look forward to your workshop!
Every day I receive emails from online content creators pointing out "other people" who don't follow the disclosure rules. As a speaker on the topic of FTC Disclosure, I have many who think "native advertising" is the way around disclosure. Rather than seeing how current law is overlaid onto new technology as it emerges, too many don't feel there is a need for disclosure unless it is explicitly stated and very clear that it would apply to their exact situation. We've created an information system where it's almost impossible to tell when we are or are not being sold to through online content. The line between advertising and editorial is so blurred and very wide. Looking forward to the workshop.

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