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Native Ad Publishers Fail in Transparency

Posted on 8.04.2016

Despite the hype, native advertisements seem to fail when it comes to providing adequate consumer transparency and disclosure.

An analysis by the Online Trust Alliance of native advertisements on the top 100 news websites found that 71 percent earned failing scores for disclosures, delineation and discover-ability (essentially, consumers were't able to discern editorial from ads).


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Of the 100 sites OTA audited, 69 percent had one or more native ad on their respective homepage. Of the native ads observed, 9 percent earned what OTA deemed top trust scores, meeting or exceeding clear transparency requirements, 20 percent of the native ads were classified as in need of improvement, and 71 percent received failing grades.

“While native ads without proper disclosures may yield short term monetary goals, they risk marginalizing the long-term value of advertising and the reputation of sites where they are served,” said the Online Trust Alliance’s Executive Director Craig Spiezle. “Consumers who experience annoyance, confusion and misinterpretation in native advertising, combined with increasing security and privacy issues will likely turn to using ad blockers. The result is nobody wins since sites and ad networks will lose revenue and consumers will miss out on content that is relevant to them.”

These failures in transparency could definitely become a real problem for both advertisers and publishers from the standpoint of the Federal Trade Commission. Fortunately, the OTA has provided a checklist to help websites serve native ads that won't confuse consumers.

The following the OTA's recommendations in their own words and based on interviews with key stakeholders, publishers and industry trade groups (as well as with the FTC itself):

1. Use OTA recommended disclosure terminology, refraining from creating unique and proprietary terms (see Appendix A in the report).
2. If the disclosure term is pre-populated by third parties, require they comply with recommended terminology and site branding requirements.
3. Make disclosures clear and conspicuous, maximizing discoverability and readability.
4. Be consistent. Use the same disclosures in the same positions on the same site over time.
5. Address readability across screens. Use/adapt disclosures for different devices, including mobile.
6. Keep disclosure size readable for all ages. It is recommended that the disclosure text be no more than 2 points smaller than surrounding copy.
7. Use recognized design standards, type styles, colors and adequate contrast for visibility. Use of all bold type and compressed letter spacing decreases readability.
8. Identify consumer-facing sponsoring brands, not just the content service in the disclosure.
9. Use color brand logos as applicable.
10. Review the use of supplemental co-branding of content providers and the impact on the user experience. Data suggests the inclusion of added co-branding may distract from providing consumers clear and intuitive disclosures.
11. Delineate native units from page content through the use of rules (a horizontal line or border) and/or shading.
12. Review compliance with accessibility requirements, including but not limited to adding alternative text descriptors for all images served.

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