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The FTC has finally given some specific guidance on what native ads are meant to look like

New york times native adThe New York TimesA native ad for Olay from The New York Times.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued some long-awaited guidance about what native ads are meant to look like.

The popularity of native advertising — the practice of creating paid-for content that has the same look and feel as the site or app it is sitting on — has soared in popularity in recent years. BI Intelligence predicts spend on native ads in the US will reach $10.7 billion this year, up from $7.9 billion last year. The world’s biggest publishers including BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and The Guardian all regularly publish native ads.

However, critics of the advertising medium say native ads can often deceive consumers because of the way they are packaged up to look like organic content — like everyday feature articles on a journalism website.

The FTC has been exploring how to effectively police native advertising since 2013. On Tuesday it released specific guidelines on what native ads should look like, including some practical (and hypothetical) examples. The FTC is an enforcement agency and has the power to publicize bad actors that don’t comply with the guidelines and impose fines on repeat offenders.

Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau for Consumer Protection, said in a statement: “”The FTC’s policy applies time-tested truth-in-advertising principles to modern media. People browsing the Web, using social media, or watching videos have a right to know if they’re seeing editorial content or an ad.”

Here are some of the most interesting nuggets of advice from the FTC’s “Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses” — many publishers and advertisers might need to change their current approach:

Simply saying a native ad is “promoted” is not enough — The FTC said terms such as “Promoted” or “Promoted stories” are ambiguous and could mislead consumers that the ad is endorsed by the publisher. Instead publishers should opt for words like “Ad,” “Advertisement,” Paid Advertisement,” or “Sponsored Advertising Content.” “Promoted By [Advertiser Name]” and “Brought To You By [Advertiser Name]” are also reasonable alternatives on some occasions, the FTC said.

Make sure the advertising disclosure stands out — The FTC said disclosures should be large and visible enough for readers to notice them, and that publishers and advertisers should take into account different screen sizes, and colour contrasts.

On news sites, the disclosure should appear in front of or above the headline — The disclosure needs to be in a location where the reader is likely to see it. The FTC notes: “If a publisher site is read left to right, consumers are less likely to notice disclosures positioned to the right of the native ads to which they relate. In addition, if native ads are inserted into a vertical stream of content items, placing a disclosure below a native ad increases the risk that consumers will click on the ad without seeing the disclosure.”

If the native ad is an image or graphic, the disclosure probably needs to be placed on the image itself — If it’s a video, the disclosure should be made shortly before the viewer receives the advertising message.

Disclosures need to remain if the native ads are republished by other publishers — That also includes URL links for sharing on social media, which should include a disclosure at the beginning.

Read the full guidelines here.

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