Is Native Advertising too misleading?

Even if you haven’t heard of native advertising you’ve probably been subjected to it, at some point when you were browsing the internet, without even knowing that it was an advertisement. Native advertising is a type of advertising, usually online but feasibly elsewhere, that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears. In many cases, it manifests as either an article or video, produced by an advertiser with the specific intent to promote a product, while matching the form and style which would otherwise be seen in the work of the platform’s editorial staff. (Native advertising, wiki) In other words native advertising is ads that are made to look like actual content, as it is usually indistinguishable from the actual content of the site.

How is it misleading

Generally ads are clearly recognisable; they have different fonts, column widths, they are enclosed by borders and be identified prominently as advertising. However native advertising does not follow these publishing ethics as the advertisers run content that is very similar to the look and style of the site the advertisement is running on. For example on news related platforms/sites like Gawker or Buzzfeed the native advertising is made to look exactly the same as the site news posts/articles. Also the label “advertising” is almost never applied, what they use are words like “sponsored content” or “from around the web”. An example of native advertising is on the site Gawker, This article (shown below) sits on the Gawker root domain and the design and editorial style match Gawker’s.


The page is labelled sponsored and about two paragraphs in we find that the post is promoting the TBS show King of the Nerds. Click here for the full article. Even by the way the article is written there is almost no clear distinguishing factor that separates this post as an advert from the other posts that Gawker has. The whole point of this ad is too entice viewers to watch their show.


A study conducted on the “Contently” website has surveyed 509 male and female consumers of varying ages (all of them 18+) on native advertising. And there key findings are shown below:

  • On nearly every publication we tested, consumers tend to identify native advertising as an article, not an advertisement.
  • Consumers often have a difficult time identifying the brand associated with a piece of native advertising, but it varies greatly, from as low as 63 percent (on The Onion) to as high as 88 percent (on Forbes).
  • Consumers who read native ads that they identified as high quality reported a significantly higher level of trust for the sponsoring brand.
  • 62 percent of respondents think a news site loses credibility when it publishes native ads. In a separate study we conducted a year ago, 59 percent of respondents said the same.
  • 48 percent have felt deceived upon realizing a piece of content was sponsored by a brand—a 15 percent decrease from last year’s survey.

For the full article click here. The big point is that consumers tend to identify native advertising as an article, not an advertisement. This right here is the reason why people are getting fed up with native advertising in the first place. It’s because consumers can’t actually tell the difference between a native advertisement and an actual article, which is why people are now feeling that native advertising is misleading them.


The Federal Trade Commission has now come out with a long “enforcement policy statement” on native advertising. This is there policy statement, it is quite long. But here are three quick points that highlight some of the main ideas within the statement.

  • “If a natively formatted ad appearing as a news story is inserted into the content stream of a publisher site that customarily offers news and feature articles, reasonable consumers are unlikely to recognize it as an ad.”
  • “Misleading representations or omissions about an advertisement’s true nature or source, including that a party other than the sponsoring advertiser is the source of the advertising, are likely to affect consumers’ behavior with regard to the advertised product or the advertisement.”
  • “The Commission views as material any misrepresentations that advertising content is a news or feature article, independent product review, investigative report, or scientific research or other information from a scientific or other organization.”

This policy statement can now have three effects on the industry:

  • The most aggressive native ad networks will be fined or shut down.
  • Overall effectiveness of native advertising will decline. Now that the FTC has taken a stand, it will be much harder for publishers to argue plausible deniability.
  • Big Brands may join the native advertising fray. Ironically, an FTC clampdown may be just the thing that brings big advertisers to the native advertising world. Now that the rules are clearer, it becomes easier for big brands to invest in the space without fear of being dragged into regulatory action.


Overall thoughts

Advertising in the media can be a heavily discussed topic, there is no doubt that native advertising is very misleading and that in most cases people won’t even be able to distinguish whether they are viewing an ad or an article. But at least the FTC is clamping down on native advertising so we can expect that there will be a decline in the amount of native advertising that there is. I personally reckon that the rise of native advertising is mainly due to the fact that people are now not only not wanting to pay for anything but they are also getting annoyed of all the advertisement, so they have started using programs like ad block to get rid of all these ads. Because of this we then see the rise of native advertising to try and get past all these ad blocks that people are now using. Personally I don’t mind seeing advertisements because these ads are what allow me to view my content for free in the first place.

If you have time I highly recommend watching this segment from the show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Note that this segment was filmed before the FTC come out with their policy statement on native advertising.



Native advertising. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Bob Garfield. (2014). Native advertising. Retrieved from

Demian Farnworth. (2014). 12 Examples of Native Ads. Retrieved from

Joe Lazauskas. (2015). Article or Ad? Retrieved from

Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements. (n.d.). Retrieved from

David Rodnitzky. (2016). Now that the FTC has spoken on Native Advertising. Retrieved from


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