Another DUI For The IAB

In 2013 the Interactive Advertising Bureau published its “Native Advertising Playbook” to help drive this growing segment of Internet advertising. The playbook stated, “It is clear that most advertisers and publishers aspire to deliver paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”

Two weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission pulled the IAB over for driving the industry under the influence of self-delusion.  It turns out running ads that “assimilate into the design” -- so much so that “the viewer feels that they belong” -- is exactly what not to do.  

The FTC’s “Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements" states that the way native advertising is practiced now, “the effect is to mask the signals consumers customarily have relied upon to recognize an advertising or promotional message.”



The statement further clarifies, “The Commission has long held the view that advertising and promotional messages that are not identifiable as ‘advertising’ to consumers are deceptive if they mislead consumers into believing they are independent, impartial, or not from the sponsoring advertiser itself.”

The words “long held the view” struck me.  Randall Rothenberg and his executive team at the IAB knew the FTC’s stance on clearly labeling ad content as “advertising” long before they published a playbook for serving ad content not labeled “advertising.”  This is not another case of Internet advertising executives believing the rules of the publishing past do not apply to publishing’s future. Rather, this is a case of gross negligence.

Think about how much money and market attention has been invested in “native advertising,” and how many jobs are now in jeopardy.  

“Native advertising” was a tactic laced with bullshit from the start, and it has further poisoned the integrity of the media.  This FTC ruling is a surprise to no one except the IAB, who responded like a child who gets his toy taken away despite being warned about the outcome of his poor behavior.

In a couple of weeks, the IAB Leadership Summit will take place with an agenda subtitled “The Next $50 Billion.”  If the strategy for the “next $50 billion” is anything like the first, Rothenberg’s IAB will continue to focus on technology to drive ad dollars into the industry as quickly and easily as possible, littering Web sites with cheap ads and encouraging questionable business practices.  

We are so caught up in inflating gross dollars at the expense of delivering a product that can sustain growth in price. We should want to be more like Rolex -- and less like mislabeled brand underwear sold at a flea market.

As for “native advertising,” here’s an idea: Advertisers can publish as much native content as their marketing hearts desire and run it on their own sites.  Then create some good ads (search and display), and consumers will find this content.  If it’s any good, consumers will share it.

When you put the consumer first, the best solution comes much easier.  When you put the advertiser first, the solution always feels forced.  Why do we find that so difficult to do in Internet advertising?

There is so much that needs to be undone.  Relying on the people who drove us into this mess to drive us out, is a bad idea.  It’s time to revoke the license of the IAB leader and replace him with a professional who has actually sold premium advertising for a living -- someone who has a better understanding of the perfect balance that must be kept between protecting consumer interests while selling access to their cherished attention.

Editor’s Note: Ari Rosenberg is a valued regular contributor to MediaPost, but he is not part of our editorial staff and the views and opinions expressed in his commentaries do not necessarily reflect those of MediaPost.

3 comments about "Another DUI For The IAB".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, January 7, 2016 at 3:35 p.m.

    I wrote about two years ago about different definitions of Native Advertising. There were 3 different versions at the time that I could count. Clearly there was confusion then and the FTC has its own definition now.

    I think it is time to start over with a clear definition of what Native Advertising is, what it should look like, and some basic guildelines before throwing a ton a money at this form of advertising.

  2. Susan Borst from IAB, January 7, 2016 at 10:41 p.m.

    Ari Rosenberg is once again inaccurate in his reporting and assessment of IAB activities. As the lead of the IAB Native Advertising/Content Committee, I would like to set the record straight on IAB's strong stance and drum-beat on native ad disclosure over the past 2 1/2 years. 


    FTC takes issue with ads that are assimilated into the design that are not clearly labeled as a paid native ad unit.  IAB has been a staunch advocate that “a reasonable consumer should be able to distinguish between what is a paid native ad unit vs. what is publisher editorial content.”  This is clearly laid out in the IAB Native Advertising Disclosure Principles found in the IAB Native Playbook (1). These principles also state that “regardless of native advertising unit type, clarity and prominence of the disclosure is paramount.” IAB has worked closely with the FTC on the topic of native disclosure. The FTC spoke to IAB members before their “Blurred Lines” Native Workshop in 12/13. At that Workshop, IAB plus a number of IAB members spoke. On the one year anniversary of the FTC Workshop, the FTC attended the IAB's own Native Disclosure Workshop in NYC.


    Ari Rosenberg incorrectly implies that IAB puts the advertiser first when it comes to native ad disclosure. He is clearly not aware of the large scale IAB/Edeleman Consumer Study titled “Getting In-Feed Sponsored Content Right – The Consumer View” (2). This study with 5,000 consumers sought to understand how consumers perceive/feel about in-feed sponsored content, focusing on the news genre. A key takeaway of the study was that the industry should err on the side of transparency for the consumer. He is also apparently not aware of the IAB In-Feed Advertising Deep Dive, a supplement to the IAB Playbook (3). As TechCrunch summarized in their reporting of the Deep Dive (4), “the IAB is emphasizing the importance of disclosure, with language that’s large and visible, making it clear that the ad has been paid for."

    We value discussion on the topic of native advertising disclosure and encourage everyone to read the links below to get the real story on where IAB stands on the topic.






  3. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, January 8, 2016 at 3:17 p.m.

    Susan, it's clear my column made you upset and for that I am sorry.  My inbox however, is filled with emails supporting my assement along with caveats that these people can not say so "publicly" which in itself is sad.

    My issue is not with how IAB is handling "native" but rather that it's being handled at all.  The very nature of calling an advertisement something other than an "ad" is deceptive.  If donuts (ads) are not selling well, and bagels (content) are, then calling a donut a "donagel" is miseleading that will lead to a few short term sales, followed by distrust for those shops selling these new fangled items and worse, this practice takes away the responsibility of the donut makers to just make better donuts.

    Native ads hurt the content sites that run them -- have a look at your own site and tell me that the ads you see towards the bottom of the page don't reflect poorly on the IAB as a publisher;

    I appreciate you responding to my column even if you disagree with me.  It sparks more dialogue to fixing the issues at hand.

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