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Amid Surge of Native Ads, FTC Vows to Protect Consumers From Deception

December 5, 2013

Faced with a growing wave of advertising designed to resemble the unbiased news articles and features of the online publications in which it appears, the Federal Trade Commission is warning advertisers that it intends to vigorously enforce its rules against misleading advertising.

As The New York Times reports, so-called native advertising or sponsored content has become more aggressive on the Internet as technology has given companies the ability to target specific audiences and individuals and to receive instant feedback when they react to what is being shown.

Recent surveys revealed that 73 percent of online publishers offered these kinds of advertising opportunities, FTC officials said. The New York Times itself will begin the practice next year. During a test that the commission conducted with advertising and publishing experts, advertisers and marketers reportedly were loath to label such ads as advertisements.

According to Robert Weissman, president of the consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen, “The whole point of the word ‘sponsored’ is to avoid calling it what it is.”

Publishers argue that readers can distinguish promotional material from newsroom content, but research contradicts such claims. According to Michelle De Mooy, senior associate at the advocacy group Consumer Action, what is missing in a “native advertisement” — cheaper alternatives that go unmentioned in an article about a drug used to treat a medical disorder, for example — is as important as what is included. — Greg Beaubien


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