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.