Content or advertising? It’s a question facing many marketers these days—and sometimes the answer is both.

This phenomenon—known as “native advertising” or “sponsored content”—results in ads that mirror the content near which they appear or blend in with the news. Expressing concern about these increasingly blurred lines and the impact on consumers, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host a workshop December 4 on native advertising and sponsored content.

Consumers struggle to distinguish what is, and what isn’t, an ad, the agency said, particularly as the use of native advertising continues to increase. Instead of clearly delineated advertisements—the classic rectangular banner ad, for example—the boundaries between content and advertising are disappearing.

The workshop will convene “publishing and advertising industry representatives, consumer advocates, academics, and government regulators to explore changes in how paid messages are presented to consumers and consumers’ recognition and understanding of these messages,” the FTC explained.

Topics will include how to maintain the historic wall between content and advertising and the challenges faced by publishers in keeping that wall erect; how paid messages are integrated into various formats like mobile apps and smartphones; how to effectively differentiate ads from content by using techniques such as visual cues or labels; and what research findings tell us about what consumers notice and understand about native advertising.

The FTC encouraged public comment on these issues as well as any other relevant submissions.

For information on submitting a comment or more details about the workshop, click here

Why it matters: The FTC said the workshop will build upon prior efforts to differentiate among the types of advertising to make sure that consumers are aware. Other recent updates include revisions to the Endorsement Guides, which addressed the use of testimonials and endorsements in all media as well as the growing use of blogging, viral marketing, and advertising in other social media platforms. In May, the Dot Com Disclosures were brought up to date after 13 years, emphasizing that existing laws apply with equal force in the mobile ecosystem—for example, if a disclosure is necessary and doesn’t fit on an iPhone screen or within the 140-character limit of Twitter, then the ad should not be disseminated. And most recently, updates to the Search Engine Advertising guidance were released, where the agency encouraged greater distinctions between natural and paid search results.