Media organizations and advertisers that blur the line between news content and advertising could be breaking the law, the Federal Trade Commission warned Tuesday.
The FTC issued an “enforcement advisory” outlining steps companies should take to ensure readers understand which articles are actually paid advertisements. “People browsing the Web, using social media, or watching videos have a right to know if they’re seeing editorial content or an ad,” Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.
In recent years, many news sites (including National Journal) have been experimenting with “sponsored content,” also known as “native advertising”—articles or videos that are paid for by advertisers and designed to blend into the surrounding news content. Many advertisers believe their messages are more likely to grab consumers’ attention when they’re formatted like content, and the sponsored messages can bypass ad blockers, which are becoming increasingly popular.
The FTC, which polices “unfair or deceptive” business practices, isn’t opposed to those kinds of ads, but the commission warned websites not to mislead readers. “Advertisements or promotional messages are deceptive if they convey to consumers expressly or by implication that they’re independent, impartial, or from a source other than the sponsoring advertiser—in other words, that they’re something other than ads,” the commission wrote in a guide to businesses that accompanied the new enforcement advisory.