It’s exam time at most colleges (good luck to my daughter at the University of Chicago!) so in that spirit, here’s a quiz. Can you spot the native advertising in this link? How about this one?

What is native advertising? Depends who you ask. But it typically involves content supplied or sponsored by an advertiser. In the Buzzfeed example, look at the boxes down the left side, which have a shaded background. You’ll see the words “presented by.” Those would qualify.  

Is there anything wrong with native advertising? Again, depends on who you ask. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into it, and that agency recently held a workshop in Washington D.C. Here’s a post on the event from the Columbia Journalism Review. I attended and found most of the discussion really interesting. The key here I think is letting readers know exactly what they are getting into. And that requires some clarity.  For example, there is a difference I think between a situation where the advertiser has no input in creating the paid content and the situation where the advertiser writes or edits the content. Using an ambiguous term like “sponsored by” or “presented by” interchangeably doesn’t tell the whole story. And if that wasn’t on the FTC’s radar before the workshop, it certainly is now. 

For those readers who believe in limited government, I suppose the good news is that the FTC has no specific regulatory authority here. There are no “Native Advertising” regulations set out in the Code of Federal Regulations. The bad news of course, is that the FTC has more general power to regulate “deceptive practices.”  Which means there is less guidance about what you can and can’t do.  

If you are dipping your toe in the native advertising waters, be careful.  And be transparent.