FTC Considers Questions Around Native Advertising

With media outlets increasingly blurring the line between advertising and editorial content, the Federal Trade Commission is hosting a workshop to discuss the issues around the rise of native advertising.

With media outlets running ads that increasingly blur the line between advertising and editorial content, the Federal Trade Commission is hosting a workshop to discuss the issue of native advertising.

When an ad doesn’t look like an ad anymore, what does that mean for the industry?

That’s a question the Federal Trade Commission, which sets the online rules for the road for the advertising industry, faces as it considers what to do about native advertising.

The ad format, which has become popular in recent years as an alternative to the banner ad, is closely associated with online media outlets such as BuzzFeed and The Atlantic and is often used as a format for content marketers, including nonprofits and associations, to push their messages to wider audiences. However, it comes with some major drawbacks that the FTC will consider during an informal workshop on Wednesday.

Titled “Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content?,” the workshop will bring together advertising and journalism professionals—including major figures such as Edelman Chief Content Strategist Steve Rubel, BuzzFeed President and COO Jon Steinberg, and Interactive Advertising Bureau Senior Vice President Mike Zaneis—to discuss advertising content that straddles the editorial line. Though the event’s direct focus isn’t creating rules for the industry, weighty questions about best practices and ethical concerns will be raised with FTC regulators in a panel format.

Such branded content approaches can be lucrative for online publishers, so much so that traditional players such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are considering using the format. Research, such a May study by Sharethrough and the IPG Media Lab, shows that sponsored posts are often more effective at reaching audiences than traditional banner ads, but at the cost of editorial integrity—especially on sites where native ads look the same as editorial content.

One particularly infamous example of this went viral in January: A sponsored post promoting Scientology on The Atlantic‘s website backfired for the company, leading one of the magazine’s own columnists to question the strategy in blog posts and the company to issue an apology.

The panel discussion, which is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis and will be live-streamed on the FTC website, begins at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.

Have you ever paid for branded content for your organization or allowed branded content on your association’s website? What sort of tips would you give to nonprofits considering the strategy? Let us know your take in the comments below.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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