Commish: Changes to ad design and content boosts ad awareness

Look! Over There!

A basic tactic of shady internet advertisers relies on blurring the lines between “real” content and advertisements. Enough users are duped in this fashion to make the practice commonplace (and lucrative). Ad producers blend their pitch in with “legitimate” content, whether it is a search results page or a feature article – especially now that legitimate content is reposted and shared across platforms like never before.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission) has issued disclosure guidelines to help advertisers make the necessary distinctions, available here. In mid-December 2017, the Commission followed up on its guidance with a staff research report that concretely demonstrates how a few simple modifications to advertising disclosures can make a big difference.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Study participants were presented with a set of ads on a number of separate web pages viewed on a PC or a smartphone. Half of the ads were derived from search engine page results, the other half from media sites that included native advertising. The FTC then modified the ads with changes made to basic design aspects such as background shading, text color contrast, disclosure placement in proximity to the headline and label consistency. FTC coders recorded the reactions of the tested consumers and scored how well they did spotting the ad.

The result? The combined set of changes in the modified ads spurred consumers on to heightened awareness – a 10 percent to 45 percent jump in ad recognition.

The Takeaway

The FTC’s staff report does not replace or supplant previous disclosure guidelines. But it is essential reading for anyone who wants to keep their native advertising on the right track, providing a useful summary of disclosure techniques, before and after examples, and a full summary of its own methodology – helpful tools for any advertiser (or their counsel).