If you live under a rock and don’t know that the FTC regulates internet advertising and commerce, then go back to whatever you were doing and don’t bother reading any further. 

On the other hand, if you’re an internet marketer, affiliate, digital advertising person, publisher, blogger, run a native ad platform (or any kind of ad platform for that matter), then keep reading.  (Or don’t, it’s up to you…)

The FTC has issued new ‘guidance’ for native advertising, and it’s rather sweeping when you read it – and loaded with ambiguity and nebulous examples (in a couple of cases) that make me question the sanity of the person or persons who actually wrote these examples.

[Tweet “Examples 15 and 17 are the two that I am left shaking my head over, if you really want to know. “]

Ok, we get it.  The FTC has decided, correctly in my opinion, that native advertising is getting out of hand and needs to be reigned in and regulated.  It’s not much of a stretch, especially after the dot com Disclosures of a couple years ago. 

[Tweet “This could be the death knell for efficient advertising on the internet.  “]

Of course every advertiser, publisher and platform purveyor is, and has been, beating the horse to death, again and again, when it comes to pushing the boundaries of taste and common sense, in order to try to maximize ad revenue all the way around.

The current state of things is pretty abysmal, when you look at it.  Apple’s encouraging developers to create and distribute ad-blocker software in the App Store; this move alone has created a ‘sky is falling’ situation in programmatic ad-land, and shivers run up and down everyone’s spine when you appear to be taking the teeth out of native – it’s the only thing left that isn’t blocked and can be tracked, but it certainly won’t work nearly so well if it’s plastered over with words like AD, PAID, SPONSORED, etc 

Everyone from AdAge.com to the IAB to the MMA to the NY Times has been weighing in with their opinions on the matter…  and every single one of their livelihoods depends, at least in part, on the success or failure of ad units to convert surfers to readers (or watchers), and readers to buyers, and buyers into viral marketing machines for events, products, etc.

AdWeek has already published a piece on avoiding FTC scrutiny of your client’s native ads, in case you’re looking for some light reading.

“In appropriate circumstances, the FTC has taken action against other parties who helped create deceptive advertising content – for example, ad agencies and operators of affiliate advertising networks,” according to the guidelines. “Everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature. Marketers who use native advertising have a particular interest in ensuring that anyone participating in the promotion of their products is familiar with the basic-truth-in-advertising principle that an ad should be identifiable as an ad to consumers.”

It’s pretty likely that the FTC already has some ‘violators’ in their sights, and are ready to pounce as soon as enough time has passed without the potential offenders cleaning up their act.  Whether that’s 30 minutes or 30 days, it’s hard to know, and almost impossible to forecast – we’ve certainly seen them fail to enforce or investigate in obvious cases of fraud and deception in the past.