Study Finds Majority of Native Ads Are Confusing

native ads

Native advertising—paid content designed to blend in with surrounding editorial content—is increasingly popular with advertisers.  But it risks confusing consumers, highlighting the need for advertisers to balance effective marketing with avoiding deception.

A report released August 3 by the Washington state-based nonprofit Online Trust Alliance (OTA) found a majority of native ads across top media sites aren’t presented in a way that lets viewers easily discern what they are.

OTA found native ads on 69 of the top 100 news and media sites visited by North American consumers.  Of those, 71 percent received failing scores based on OTA’s rubric, which included disclosure terminology, presentation and delineation from editorial content.

Overall, the report found 43 different disclosure terms were used, showing a lack of uniformity and  consistency—and creating the potential for more confusion. 

“Left unchecked, the impact can adversely affect consumer trust and confidence in online advertising and the brand reputation of sites,” the report said.

Those ads that got a top score used, among other things, recommended disclosure terms such as “paid content” or “advertisement” in a font, size and color that could be easily seen on any device. The report recommended avoiding potentially misleading terms such as “suggested” and “recommended for you.”

As for failing scores, unacceptable disclosure terminology and visibility were major contributing factors.

In one example, “Powered by” written in white letters on a light background was barely distinguishable on certain displays, the report said.  Also, the word choice didn’t clearly indicate that the content was paid.

The Federal Trade Commission, in native advertising guidance released last year, recommended that disclosures be in clear and unambiguous language; as close as possible to the native ad; and in a font, color and shade that is easy-to-read against the background color. It warned that even terms such as “promoted by” or “sponsored by” may not be entirely clear to a consumer, depending on context.