Online Native Ads Are Held To Higher Standards Than Those On TV

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Editor’s note: Danielle Wiley is the CEO of Sway Group, a leading content marketing agency with over 75,000 influencers in its network.  

National news programs have garnered news of their own recently for adopting native advertising as a source of income. “Good Morning America” recently aired interviews with the new Under Armour spokespeople, Lindsay Vonn and Gisele Bundchen, but only those who waited until the very end of the segment witnessed the “brought to you by” disclaimer. Though some social media pundits called out “GMA” for not making this disclaimer apparent enough, it was actually a big step forward in television disclosure overall. Most TV disclaimers don’t appear (if at all) until the end credits; virtually insuring that no one will see them.

Indeed, shows who don’t disclose sponsorship until the credits roll are doing nothing wrong. FTC requirements mandate television programs to merely mention all sponsors in the end credits at the conclusion of a show, in comparison to the FTC’s online requirements of placing disclaimers several times throughout a sponsored post on an online site. The FTC is tasked with prevention of fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace, yet different platforms seem to be held to different standards when it comes to revealing sponsored content.

As the owner of an influencer management agency, I see how hard our team works with our bloggers to ensure that each online post is FTC-compliant. Our Community team educates influencers on current requirements and then our Quality Assurance team reviews all sponsored content to guarantee FTC online guidelines are met (and only releases payment to influencers once that is confirmed.)

This level of transparency is important to us as an industry. The reality is that quality content publishers have nothing to hide. The influencers we work with aren’t interested in generating a sponsored post about a brand they don’t already like and support, and they work hard to create content that is readable and entertaining, whether that content is sponsored or not.

The FTC guidelines for online content were created for the “reasonable consumer,” defined as someone who may not read an entire piece or scroll to the end of an online article. This begs the question; are the more relaxed guidelines for television disclosure also created for that reasonable consumer? I’d give that an emphatic, “No.”

Perhaps the FTC is stricter with online publishers because this stance generates more buzz for them. It is somehow a lot sexier to criticize online venues for taking on sponsored work than it is to criticize a show like “Pawn Stars” that openly shills its sponsors’ products (Ooma and Subway to name just two), with nary a disclosure to be seen (indeed, my DVR always manages to cut off that show before the credits). It is TV sponsorships like these that are yielding the shows hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In comparison, if our bloggers take on a sponsored post (typically for $150 to $5,000, depending on the reach and influence of that blogger), disclosure is everywhere. It is at the top of the post. It is at the bottom of the post. It is present in all amplification on Twitter and Facebook. Why the double standard?

While native advertising is a new term, the concept isn’t new at all. We can all remember watching Jerry Seinfeld grab a Snapple out of his fridge on his show. Yet, with the evolution of television consumption, including an influx of channels, on-demand viewing and DVR capabilities, quite frequently viewers are flipping channels, skipping ads and binge watching entire seasons in one sitting. It can be argued that this “reasonable consumer,” may not stick around to watch an entire episode and with so many other options looming, would be hard pressed to stay for an episode’s end credits to witness the fleeting moment of sponsorship disclosure.

The broad reach of television leaves room for more clearly labeled sponsored content, similar to the FTC regulations placed upon sponsored online content, in order to provide all viewers appropriate disclaimers. The current system places online sponsored content at a disadvantage; one in which the extreme level to which we are required to disclose makes us look like we are taking on more sponsored work than other mediums.

It is only reasonable that all marketing channels should be held to the same disclosure guidelines and I applaud the FTC for recently taking a second look at television advertisers and demanding clearer disclosure practices.

Image via Shutterstock user Chamille White