Better Business Bureaus Add Standards for Native Advertising

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The Council of Better Business Bureaus has adopted new standards for native advertising, essentially applying Federal Trade Commission standards to millions of small local businesses dealt with by 112 BBB chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

Credit: Council of Better Business Bureaus

The move adds a new section – 39 – to the revised Code of Advertising adopted by the group last year. And while the group's National Advertising Division (NAD) deals with cases involving bigger national players, local chapters of the BBB deal with about 70 times as many cases.

The new section on native advertising is meant to closely resemble enforcement guidelines the FTC released late last year. It basically says advertisers must not mislead consumers about the nature or source of ads in any medium, including social media. The code says sponsored content should be clearly and conspicuously labeled as such, as a "paid ad" or with similar wording. That includes when advertiser-sponsored content doesn't directly promote a product or service. And the BBB code calls for all disclosures to be maintained in non-paid search results, social media, e-mail or other re-use.

BBBs across North America will begin enforcing the new section immediately, the group said. Businesses that don't comply with the new provisions might no longer qualify for BBB accreditation or see their ratings lowered, "with the most egregious cases losing enough to merit an F," the group said in a statement.

Last year the BBB challenged nearly 8,300 national and local ads from advertisers big and small over a variety of issues. Some of those already had to do with native advertising, said Jane Driggs, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Utah. "But the great thing about this is that now we have specifics," she said. "Before we were working with basic principles."

While native advertising is big in national media, Ms. Driggs said it may be just as prevalent in local media if not more so as publications use it to fill the void left by lower editorial staffing.