The UK's Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has released the first part of a set of guidelines to help the marketing industry provide more transparency to consumers around 'native' advertising, providing clear steps to make it easier for consumers to spot native advertising (that is, digital ad formats that are designed to look and feel like editorial content). This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

Two of the key guidelines for native advertising formats are:

  1. Provide consumers with prominently visible visual cues enabling them to immediately understand they are engaging with marketing content compiled by a third party in a native ad format which isn't editorially independent (e.g. brand logos or design, such as fonts or shading, clearly differentiating it from surrounding editorial content);
  2. It must be labelled using wording that demonstrates a commercial arrangement is in place (e.g. 'paid promotion' or 'brought to you by').

Native and content advertising spend - including paid for sponsorships, advertisement features and in-feed distribution - reached £216 million in the first half of 2014, accounting for 21% of display ad spend.

"Paid-for advertising units which are deliberately designed to replicate the look and feel of the editorial content that they appear against needs to be obvious to consumers," said Alex Stepney, Public Policy Manager for the IAB. "The guidelines help companies involved in developing and publishing such native ad formats to provide the necessary levels of transparency to consumers and uphold the integrity of online advertising."

The guidelines were based on a study commissioned by the IAB to understand consumer knowledge, attitudes and tolerance to content and native advertising, which revealed that:

  1. People decide to engage with native content based on (1) how relevant it is to them (2) whether they'll derive 'value' from it, as with editorial content and (3) if it's clear who it's from and if they trust the author, brand or publisher.
  2. People's trust in a brand or publisher can diminish if the origin of the content is unclear.
  3. The characteristics consumers considered 'good' in making commercial content clear, such as:
    • The advertiser logo being prominent, ideally at the top of the piece of content;
    • Clear labelling, e.g. 'sponsored by'. Consumers weren't so concerned about the exact wording, but did expect to see a label;
    • Boxing or colours that clearly make native content look visually different to editorial content.
  4. The way consumers 'filter' content as being native isn't necessarily linear but visual clues help them do this immediately.

Part two of the guidelines - expected to be published in Q2 2015 - will cover online advertorial and sponsored content, including how digital can learn from good practice in print media.

Supported by ISBA, the Association for Online Publishers (AOP) and the Content Marketing Association (CMA), the guidelines meet the UK advertising industry's CAP code, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

"Advertisers welcome this timely and clear guidance on native advertising. ISBA has worked closely with the IAB to produce the guidelines, a further example of advertising self-regulation that delivers consumer transparency around advertiser funding of digital media," said Ian Twinn, director of public affairs for ISBA.

"The clear delivery of native advertising is the key to positive consumer interest in both the advertiser and the publisher. The guidelines are an important step in driving that clarity," added Tim Cain, AOP's managing director.

"Advertisers need to provide trust and transparency in their approach to native marketing - ensuring their audiences can easily tell whether or not such content is editorially independent," concluded Leo Deng, digital campaign manager for Royal London.