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Guidelines on native advertising: Transparency is the key

Mar 30, 2015

As native advertising continues to take hold on several different platforms, advertising associations have taken upon themselves to develop guidelines on native advertising. Guidelines that correspond with national marketing law, obviously, and take a clear stand on how native advertising should present itself. From reading The Internet Advertising Bureau UK's guidelines, it is evident that advertising associations understand the importance of transparency: the guidelines provide advertisers, publishers, agencies and advertising technology companies with clear and practical steps to make it easier for consumers to distinguish native advertising from editorial content. 

Tactical or not, this is certainly the appropriate approach to native advertising and a necessary respons to the perception that native advertising deliberately attempts to manipulate the consumer. Now whether or not native advertising actually manipulates consumers into thinking that they are engaging with an editorial piece depends on how each specific native advertising is carried out. Here is where the guidelines on native advertising become relevant, so let's check them out.

The Internet Advertising Bureau UK proposes two basic guidelines:

- Provide consumers with prominently visible visual cues enabling them to immediately understand, that they are engaging with marketing content compiled by a third party in a native ad format which isn't editorially independent (e.g. brand logos or design, such as fonts or shading, cleary differentiating it from surrounding editorial content).

- It must be labelled using wording that demonstrates, that a commercial arrangement is in place (e.g. 'paid promotion' or 'brought to you by').

Interesting realities

While both guidelines have a certain banality to them, the integrity of publishers and advertisers would benefit greatly if they became standard. And perhaps even more important than the actual guidelines are the reasons behind them. The Internet Advertising Bureau based their guidelines on a study to understand consumer knowledge, attitudes and tolerance to content and native advertising. The study revealed some interesting realities that explain why transparency is so important:

- People decide to engage with native content based on (1) how relevant it is to them (2) whether they'll derive 'value' from it, as with editorial content and (3) if it's clear who it's from and if they trust the author, brand or publisher.

- People's trust in a brand or publisher can diminish if the origin of the content is unclear.

- The characteristics consumers considered 'good' in making commercial content clear, such as:

- The advertiser logo being prominent, ideally at the top of the piece of content.

- Clear labelling, e.g. 'sponsored by'. Consumers weren't so concerned about the exact wording, but did expect to see a label.

- The way consumers 'filter' content as being native isn't necessarily linear but visual clues help them do this immediately.

The people has spoken, and the result really isn't all that suprising. The demand is high on relevant, valuable content with clear and visual labelling. Anything less and the consumer won't engage.

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