The FTC Cracks Down on Native Advertising Abuse

But what difference will it make? Only time will tell …

FTIt had to happen: After years of publications uploading native advertising content that’s barely labeled as such, the Federal Trade Commission has handed down new guidelines that leave very little wiggle room in what constitutes proper labeling of paid advertising material.

Published under the title Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements, the FTC’s new guidelines, which run more than 10 pages in length, make it more difficult than ever to “camouflage” advertising as “legitimate” news content.

What it boils down to is the stipulation that any sponsored content must be clearly labeled as advertising – using wording that the vast majority of readers will understand instantly.

Here’s how the FTC guidelines describe it:

“Terms likely to be understood include ‘Ad,’ ‘Advertisement,’ ‘Paid Advertisement,’ ‘Sponsored Advertising Content,’ or some variation thereof. Advertisers should not use terms such as ‘Promoted’ or “Promoted Stories,’ which in this context are, at best, ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site.”

Another key provision is warning against advertising content mimicking the look and feel of surrounding editorial content – things like the layout characteristics, headline design treatment, the use of fonts and photography.

And here’s another kicker: the FTC lumps offending advertisers in the same pile as the people who create the materials, in that its policy statement doesn’t apply just to advertisers.  So ad agencies, MarComm companies and graphic designers, beware.

Quoting again from the FTC document:

“In appropriate circumstances the FTC has taken action against other parties who helped create deceptive advertising content – for example, ad agencies and operators of affiliate advertising networks. Everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature. 

“Marketers who use native advertising have a particular interest in ensuring that anyone participating in the promotion of their products is familiar with the basic truth-in-advertising principle that an ad should be identifiable as an ad to consumers.”

Of course, these new guidelines are only going to make it harder for advertisers – and publishers – to be able to utilize advertising techniques that have, up to now, been far more effective than online display advertising.

iab-logoPredictably, we’re hearing mealy-mouthed statements from the industry in response. A spokesperson for the Interactive Advertising Bureau had this to say:

“While guidance serves great benefit to the industry, it must also be technically feasible, creatively relevant, and not stifle innovation. To that end, we have reservations about some elements of the Commission’s guidance.”

What bothers the Interactive Advertising Bureau in particular is the “plain language” provisions in the FTC’s guidelines, which IAB considers “overly descriptive.”

Translation: there’s concern that publishers can no longer label advertising using such euphemisms as “partner content” or “promoted post.”

Others seem less concerned, however. Sites such as Mashable and Huffington Post appear to be onboard with the new guidelines.

Besides, as one spokesperson said, “When the FTC issues guidelines, you’re better off when you follow them than when you don’t.”

… That sounds about right.

The 2015 Marketing Buzz-Meter Kicks into Gear

We’re only a few weeks into 2015, and already the marketing buzz-meter is operating at full force.

amplificationThe latest marketing buzz phrases are always interesting because, while they surely relate to trends and tactics that are taking on greater importance, they can also be short-hand references that “everyone” uses but “no one” really understands.

Consider one popular buzz-phrase example from 2014:  “Big Data.”

I don’t think I’ve heard the same definition of what “big data” is from any two people.  Yet it’s a term that was bandied about throughout the entire year.

No doubt, “big data” will continue to be a popular buzz phrase in 2015 as well.  But you can be sure it’ll be joined by a number of others.  As Natasha Smith, editor of Direct Marketing News magazine reports, get ready to hear many of mentions of these buzz terms as well this year:

Dark Social:

This references online content, information or traffic that’s hard to measure because it occurs in messaging apps, chat and e-mail communications.  Purportedly first coined by Atlantic magazine, it’s a term whose very name conjures up all sorts of mysterious and vaguely sinister connotations about behaviors that are at work below the surface – thereby making it an irresistible phrase for some people to use.

Viewability:

This term is becoming increasingly popular due to people’s concerns that much of what makes up “viewed” online content turns out to be hardly that.  For instance, there’s a difference between a simple video impression (merely an open) and a “viewable” one (opened and staying open for at least a few seconds).

More than likely, over the coming year the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other “great experts” will be debating over what actually constitutes a “viewable” impression.  All the while, you can be sure that marketers will be referencing the term with abandon.

Attention Metrics:

Dovetailing “viewability” is the idea that traditional online marketing metrics such as unique visitors, clickthroughs, and page views are too shallow in that they don’t really measure the true consumption of content.

Enter the buzz term “attention metrics.”  No doubt, marketers will be all over this one in 2015 as they focus more on the time and attention people are spending with content, not merely the fact that some form of engagement happened.

The Internet of Things:

This term started appearing on the radar screen in 2014 but is really coming into its own now.  It even has its own Wikipedia page entry.  While the commercialization of data-collecting devices such as wearable sensors and sensors embedded in appliances and other electronics is an undeniably significant development, this term has to be one of the most pretentious-sounding phrases ever coined.

… Which makes it an irresistible entry in the buzz-meter lexicon, of course.

Conscious Capitalism:

Rounding out the 2015 list – at least for now – is a buzz phrase that captures the essence of what every socially aware marketer wishes his or her company to be.  “Conscious capitalism” refers to companies and brands that are purportedly socially responsible and “in sync” with the needs of the community and the world.

This is considered important because so much survey research shows that people respond positively to companies that “do well by doing good.”

what's all the buzz aboutExpect many people to embrace this approach – and the accompanying buzz phrase – because it sounds so perfect.

[Never mind that things often come crashing down to earth if and when consumers are asked to pay more for the “socially responsible” products and services, or to make unpleasant or unexpected adjustments to their routine in the event.]

Do you have any other examples of marketing buzz terms that you think are poised for stardom (or notoriety) in 2015?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Time spent online daily: 2.5 hours and growing.

Lots of time spent onlineIf you’re wondering what happened to all of the community volunteer activities people used to do – not to mention the popularity of participating in group social or recreational activities like softball or bowling leagues … you might look at the time Americans are spending online as one possible explanation.

The evidence comes in the form of research the Interactive Advertising Bureau did when they contracted with GfK Research to conduct an extensive online survey as part of a larger behavioral analysis of American adults.

Fielded in late 2013 with participation from ~5,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65, the IAB/GfK survey revealed that Americans are spending an average of 2.5 hours of every day online.

Add that on to the average ~5 hours per day spent watching TV – a figure that’s hardly budged in years – and it’s little wonder that the Jaycees, Shriners’ and other service organizations are finding it more difficult to recruit new members … or that “old faithful” group social and recreational activities are in danger of becoming less relevant.

The IAB/GfK survey also revealed which types of online activities are engaged in the most.  The chart below, created by Statista from the IAB/GfK report’s data and published in The Wall Street Journal, gives us the lowdown:

Online Time (average per day)

 

I wasn’t surprised to discover that social networks chew up the most online minutes per day.  Online video viewing and search time seem about as expected, too.  And who doesn’t enjoy a nice game of Spider Solitaire or Internet Spades to wind down after a long day?

But at ~30 minutes per day, the e-mail average seems on the high side.  People must really be struggling with managing personal inboxes stuffed with marketing e-mails.  (But if work-related e-mails are part of the equation, the half-hour figure seems more expected.)

Comparing these results to similar research done in prior years, the most recent survey charts an increase in online video watching; it’s doubled over the past four years.

Other activities that are on the rise include online gaming, and listening to online radio.

Adding it all up, total time spent online is continuing its inexorable rise thanks to mobile connectivity and the “always-on” digital environment in which Americans now live.

Perhaps the way to stem reduced interest in group social activities and volunteerism lies in giving people free reign to “multitask” even as they participate in the local bowling league or Ruritan Club meetings …

What are your thoughts on the time people are spending online – and if it’s crowding out other forms of daily activities?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.