FTC Workshop on Digital "Native Advertising" on December 4, 2013

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
December 2, 2013

The Federal Trade Commission will hold a workshop titled, “Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content?,” on December 4, 2013, to explore the increasing trend of “native advertising.” The all-day workshop will feature remarks by FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, perspectives from the Director and Staff Attorney of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and three panels comprised of advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, computer scientists, and other stakeholders. Among the panelists is usability expert Jeff Johnson, an ACM Distinguished Speaker. The workshop is open to the public; no advance registration is required. A live webcast will be available.

Online native advertising goes beyond the traditional display banners. It seeks to provide a non-interruptive, integrated experience for the user. Native advertising blends sponsored content with editorial, news, entertainment, and other content. Examples include promoted tweets on Twitter, sponsored likes/comments/shares on Facebook on users’ pages, sponsored stories on Facebook, promoted listings on Yelp, and check-in ads on Foursquare. The Atlantic offers “sponsor content” that may be created by the advertiser in collaboration with The Atlantic’s marketing staff. As depicted in the Workshop’s title, the concern is that these practices could make it difficult for users to distinguish the blurred lines between paid advertising and editorial content, which carries the risk of triggering enforcement action by the FTC for unfair or deceptive practices.

When the FTC updated its “.Com Disclosures” guidance for online and mobile advertising in March 2013, the agency emphasized the need for “clear and conspicuous” disclosures across various digital devices and platforms used by consumers. The updated guidance clarified that such disclosures should be “as close as possible” to the digital ad and displayed large and long enough for consumers to view the disclosure. For audio disclosures, the audio should be sufficiently loud for consumers to hear it. The FTC cautioned that, if the disclosure could not these requirements for a particular technology, the advertiser should not use the ad for that device or platform.

As part of this workshop, experts will present recent research about how consumers interact with their devices, provide insights on the current and emergent technological limitations and unique characteristics of mobile and online environments, and discuss the implications for disclosures when content is aggregated by search engines or retransmitted through social media.

For more information and to watch the live webcast, visit: FTC Workshop on Native Advertising – “Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content?”