Under the too-cute headline “And now a word from our sponsor: FTC announces "native ad" workshop,” the Federal Trade Commission on Monday jumped into the conversation about what native advertising is, what it should be, how it should work, and, most important of all, how to protect consumers from confusing it with “regular content.”
Of course, this being the FTC, it’s going to usurp, not merely participate in, this conversation. It has that Congress-given right.
Before I start sounding too snarky, let me say that (probably) isn’t a bad thing. The FTC’s rules preventing deceptive advertising have been useful, historically, at stopping bad actors from misleading an unsuspecting public, as P.J. Bednarski explains in his MediaPost article about the workshop, which has been scheduled in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 4.
But times change. The public is not so “unsuspecting” anymore, thanks to the experience of growing up and living with Internet-age communications. Nowadays, as John McCarus, SVP and co-lead of social content at Digitas, said at the Business Marketing Association’s B2B Rising conference yesterday, “Consumers will cry foul” on bad content. One fallout of the overabundance of information slamming us all is that we’ve all become really good at judging content quality for ourselves.
That’s one reason why the bar has risen on branded content–it’s not so very different from “regular content” anymore. As Altimeter Group says in its just-released research report attempting to define native advertising, “The creative component of native advertising is content marketing, i.e., messaging intended to attract rather than interrupt consumers.” Content that attracts consumers in this noisy, oversaturated world has to be good content.
And as a former editor-in-chief, publisher, and winner of three Jesse H. Neal Awards, I can tell you that the branded content my team produces is inferior to nobody’s “regular content.”
But here’s another side of this complex issue. Also at B2B Rising last night (during the post-conference cocktail reception), two executives from a prestigious national daily newspaper told me I’d be shocked at how many of their advertisers are constantly proposing ideas that “cross the line.” And these were sales, not editorial, execs; I doubt they’re all that easily shocked by this sort of thing.
So let’s all make sure the FTC understands these changes–and what hasn’t changed. I urge you all to click that link at the top of this post, read the FTC article, learn how to participate in the workshop, and do so.
We can’t prevent the FTC from making rules we’ll all have to live by. But let’s do our part to make sure it makes them the best rules they can be.