The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today released a 16-page document that further details what does and does not count as deceptive advertising — and how it intends to tell the difference if it comes up. This includes a rather lengthy section on native advertising and sponsored content as they commonly appear on the Internet.
There’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking in the document, titled “Commission Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements,” but it does raise some concerns about how content could potentially be formatted in such a way as to be deceiving to users casually browsing. Essentially, everything that’s an ad must be clearly labeled as such, which really isn’t any different than what the FTC has said previously about other forms of advertising.
What is interesting is that the language used allows the FTC an awful lot of wiggle room to determine whether an ad is deceptive. It’s not just about any given text, but also the visual imagery, format and context that matters. For example, sponsored content could be inserted into a news stream in such a way that it looks like it should also be news, but the headline could potentially clearly indicate that it’s a paid advertisement despite the placement. No deception there, or so it seems, according to the FTC’s policies.
The full section on native advertising and sponsored content on the Internet starts on the beginning of the 10th page, but there are references throughout intended to connect the deceptive ads on the Internet to deceptive ads of every other era. It reads very much like a common sense directive that if an ad’s intended to somehow disguise what it’s actually doing — which is advertising something or other — it’s being deceptive. The FTC spends a lot of time making sure they’re clear on this, which really only makes the thing read like it should end with, “I mean, really? Come on. You know what you shouldn’t do.”