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IAB moves to regulate £216m native ad industry with guidelines aimed at driving transparency

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has taken steps to regulate the £216m native ad industry, providing its first set of industry-backed guidelines devised to signpost content and native ads as paid-for content for consumers.

The trade body has released a set of guidelines for marketers, rubber stamped by other UK trade bodies – ISBA, AOP, CMA – which detail how they should label ads which have been devised to appear like editorial.

Marketers deploying native advertising must ensure that they provide “visual cues” that make it immediately clear the ads are paid-for content from a third party, and not editorially independent. This could be in the form of brand logos, or anything related to design such as fonts or shading – anything marking it differently from the surrounding editorial content.

The ad or native content must also be labelled using wording that “demonstrates a commercial arrangement is in place” according to the news rules, such as ‘paid for promotion’ or ‘brought to you by’.

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

IAB public policy manager Alex Stepney said: “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.”

“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 tips have been devised based on research conducted by 2CV on behalf of the IAB, examining consumer knowledge, attitudes and tolerance to content and native advertising.

The study revealed that people engage with native content if it is relevant to them, and if they believe they will obtain value from it, as they would if it was editorial content. They will also engage with an ad if it’s “clear” who it has come from, and they trust the author, brand, or publisher.

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at ISBA, said: “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.”

Tim Cain, the AOP’s managing director, said: "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.”

Leo Deng, digital campaign manager of pensions brand Royal London, said: “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. This practical guidance will undoubtedly help.”

The guidelines mark the first wave of standards the IAB will release, with the second to hit the market in the second quarter. This second wave will include online advertorial and sponsored content, including how digital can learn from good practice in print media.

Current guidelines meet the UK advertising industry’s CAP code, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

People’s trust in a brand or publisher can suffer if the origin of the content is unclear, according to the study. See below for the IAB's breakout of what makes native ads are well received by consumers, and further finings from the report:

  • 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, eg. ‘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
  • The way consumers ‘filter’ content as being native isn’t necessarily linear but visual clues help them do this immediately.

Jessica Davies

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