The Federal Trade Commission will host a workshop on December 4, 2013 in Washington, DC to examine so-called “native advertising.”  This term refers to the practice of blending advertisements with news, entertainment, and other content in digital media and is sometimes also referred to as “sponsored content.”  As an FTC blog post explains, “[w]hatever the name, it’s for sure ads in digital media are starting to look a lot more like the surrounding content.  What are the consumer protection implications now that those lines appear to be blurring?”

According to the Commission, the workshop builds on previous Commission initiatives, such as the Dot Com Disclosures guidance and the Endorsements and Testimonials guidance, to “help ensure that consumers can identify advertisements as advertising wherever they appear.”  The FTC noted a number of questions and topics that may be covered at the workshop, including:

  • What is the origin and purpose of the wall between regular content and advertising, and what challenges do publishers face in maintaining that wall in digital media, including in the mobile environment?
  • In what ways are paid messages integrated into, or presented as, regular content and in what contexts does this integration occur?  How does it differ when paid messages are displayed within mobile apps and on smart phones and other mobile devices?    
  • What business models support and facilitate the monetization and display of native or integrated advertisements? What entities control how these advertisements are presented to consumers?
  • How can ads effectively be differentiated from regular content, such as through the use of labels and visual cues? How can methods used to differentiate content as advertising be retained 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 regular content? What does research show about whether the ways that consumers seek out, receive, and view content online influences their capacity to notice and understand these messages as paid content?

Members of the public are invited to submit research, recommendations, illustrations, and topics for discussion.