The agency said the day-long session will bring together
industry representatives, academics, consumer advocates and
regulators to explore "changes in how paid messages are presented
to consumers and consumers' recognition and understanding of these
Laura Sullivan, an attorney with the FTC, told Ad Age that the
workshop is being held primarily to better the agency's
understanding of native advertising. According to Ms. Sullivan, the
workshop is the first time the commission will officially touch on
the issue. But, she added, the agency has examined similar areas
such as infomercials, search engine marketing, and advertorials. In
some instances, the FTC has brought lawsuits against bad actors in
However, the workshop is not an indication that actions by the
FTC are imminent, Ms. Sullivan said. "We certainly will weigh the
information and consider what the next steps will be," she said. "I
think it's premature to say that there will be any next steps."
Digital publishers, of course, are trying to prevent the FTC
from getting more deeply involved. The Online Publishers
Association, for instance, released research in July that showed
labeling native advertising clearly was a top priority for its
"In a recent survey of OPA members on native advertising,
transparency and labeling surfaced as a critical best practice,"
said OPA President Pam Horan. "We encourage the industry at large
to embrace this as it is not only important to maintaining a
trusted relationship with the consumer but demonstrates to law
makers and the administration that self-regulation works."
Implicit in Ms. Horan's statement: an assertion that the
industry would rather self-regulate than have Washington step
The Interactive Advertising Bureau announced in June that it
would establish a taskforce on native advertising to explore best
practices and definitions. The organization said it will
participate in the FTC's workshop if invited.
"The upcoming workshop will be a great opportunity to raise the
awareness level of key Washington decision makers about this
evolving format" said Mike Zaneis, senior vice president of public
policy and general counsel at the IAB, in an email to Ad Age. "We
look forward to working with the Commission to further educate
industry on best practices."
Taskforces in the digital advertising industry have, at times,
sat on critical issues without taking much action. For the FTC,
this workshop may be a way of showing that it may not stand for
inaction for long.
"We certainly are aware of the internal debate on the topic,"
said Ms. Sullivan.