2839872192_1a4425937a_mNot too long ago, we wrote an article wondering about the potential dark side of the “content marketing” revolution. Based on insights from, among others, media expert Bob Garfield, we discussed in that post whether it was 100% clear to readers of websites and publications whether content was sponsored. “Native advertising” seems like a win-win for publishers and advertisers, but is the reader getting suckered?

As it turns out, this question is now of some interest to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to an article from Advertising Age, the FTC will be hosting a “workshop” on December 4, 2013. The FTC said the purpose of this workshop will be to “‘examine the practice of blending advertisements with news, entertainment, and other content in digital media.’”

The primary issue, according to the article, is that the FTC is concerned about whether readers are being adequately warned that the content they are reading is sponsored content.

Transparency is a key issue that we feel does not get covered enough in all of the buzz about “content marketing.” The FTC has already cracked down on bloggers for failing to be transparent about relationships between companies about whose products they are writing. The Advertising Age article quotes Laura Sullivan, an FTC attorney, as noting that the FTC has also already voiced concerns about other types of content including search engine marketing, advertorials, and infomercials.

Not surprisingly, there is already voiced concern about the FTC’s workshop even though the FTC has stated that the workshop is not an indication that actions will definitely follow. The Online Publisher’s Association (OPA) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) have both issued statements in regards to native advertising. Advertising Age cites a statement from OPA President Pam Horan noting that “labeling native advertising clearly was a top priority for its members.” Advertising Age goes on to note, “Implicit in Ms. Horan’s statement: an assertion that the industry would rather self-regulate than have Washington step in.”

The IAB, according to Advertising Age, had already announced in June that it would be working on creating best practices for native advertisers.

What This Means For You

Whether or not the FTC enacts any strict rules or regulations after their December workshop, it is clear that the world of content marketing is under examination. This means that if you are using content marketing (blog posts, native advertising, white papers, etc) you need to make sure that it is clear that your content is being used, ultimately, as a selling device. Tread with caution as you begin your planning for 2014. If a publisher offers you a chance to advertise via advertorials or other types of sponsored content, make sure you ask how that sponsorship will be denoted. If you are a publisher, consider the pros and cons of these types of offerings and be honest with your advertisers. Content clearly denoted as sponsored may not receive as many click-throughs, but it is possible that those who did click-through are higher quality leads.

We will be keeping an eye on this situation, obviously. We hope you do, too.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joriel/2839872192/ via Creative Commons