Sometimes you can get a glimpse of what’s coming over the horizon and I think I got one of those this morning. I was catching up on some reading and came across a letter that the FTC sent out. It was directed to search engines but I think it’s a harbinger of things to come as the digital ad business gets more deeply into content marketing and so-called “native” advertising. You can read the letter here but in summary it says that ads in search results must be clearly identified as such:
Search engines provide invaluable benefits to consumers. By using search engines, consumers can find relevant and useful information, typically at no charge. At the same time, consumers should be able to easily distinguish natural search results from advertising that search engines deliver. Accordingly, we encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialized search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising. In addition, as your business may change in response to consumers’ search demands, the disclosure techniques you use for advertising should keep pace with innovations in how and where you deliver information to consumers.
That’s why you see the yellow background, for example, on Google search results along with it saying “ads related to (whatever the search term is)”. The point is for consumers to be able to distinguish results that someone paid to make prominent vs those that would otherwise rise to the top. Makes sense. The tail end of the letter begins to talk about this same principle as it manifests itself in social and mobile (and voice search as well!). Which got me thinking.
Content marketing done well is a beautiful thing. Hopefully you all consider this blog a good example of someone putting our content that’s informative and engaging. My hope is that this will lead you to email or call me about working with you, so I think in part that makes this an ad. If I ever write anything that I’m paid to put in here, I’ll disclose it (although I probably won’t do that in the first place). That’s content marketing – using content to sell.
Native ads are a bit more insidious. It’s about the creation of content that’s supposed to be useful and interactive like content marketing. Someone defined it as any type of advertising where the placement appeared to be appropriate except it’s much harder to identify as an ad. When an article is about cats and is really an ad for a retailer, that’s a problem.
I think it won’t be long before rules are put in place to crack down on this. How will the FTC stop fake reviews, articles such as the one above, and other forms that don’t disclose they’re really ads (which might call into question the validity of what’s in the article)? I’m not sure but I know it won’t be as thoughtful as if marketers figure it out for themselves.
What do you think?