Online Trust Alliance Finds Majority of Native Ads Confusing

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OTA releases a new report which finds that 71% of native advertisements on top media sites fail to provide adequate consumer transparency and disclosure

The principles and checklist developed by OTA are a positive and constructive step as the industry experiments with terms and strategies to appropriately label native advertising

The Online Trust Alliance (OTA), the non-profit with the mission to enhance online trust, today announced the results of its Native Advertising Assessment. The analysis of the native advertisements on the top 100 news websites found that 71 percent earned failing scores for disclosures, delineation and discoverability, thus not providing consumers the ability to easily discern editorial from ads. Native advertising refers to website content that is funded and produced outside the publisher’s editorial review or influence, yet is designed to appear similar or homogenous to editorial on that site.

“While native ads without proper disclosures may yield short term monetary goals, they risk marginalizing the long-term value of advertising and the reputation of sites where they are served,” said the Online Trust Alliance’s Executive Director Craig Spiezle. “Consumers who experience annoyance, confusion and misinterpretation in native advertising, combined with increasing security and privacy issues will likely turn to using ad blockers. The result is nobody wins since sites and ad networks will lose revenue and consumers will miss out on content that is relevant to them.”

Of the 100 sites OTA audited, 69 percent had one or more native ad on their respective homepage. Of the native ads observed, 9 percent earned what OTA deemed top trust scores, meeting or exceeding clear transparency requirements, 20 percent of the native ads were classified as in need of improvement, and 71 percent received failing grades.

“Native advertising has the potential to provide valuable content to consumers, new revenue for publishers and greater relevancy for advertisers,” said Digital Content Next (DCN) CEO Jason Kint. “The principles and checklist developed by OTA are a positive and constructive step as the industry experiments with terms and strategies to appropriately label native advertising. We are pleased to see that DCN members continue to lead by example in protecting consumer trust.”

OTA judged each native ad based on:

  •     Disclosure terminologies—Were words like “ad, paid or sponsored by” used to disclose the native ad, or was it unclear whether or not this was editorial versus sponsored?
  •     Discoverability; text visibility and readability—The disclosure text size should not be difficult to read due to size, low contrast, text type or color choice (some audited text was a light grey, barely noticeable against the background).
  •     Delineation—The native unit should be set apart from editorial with shading, borders and/or brand logos.

OTA used the number of unique monthly visitors to determine the top 100 news websites. Since sites change their native advertising layout frequently, OTA judged the ads themselves and not the sites or their native ad policies.

Native Advertising Checklist
Based on interviews with key stakeholders, publishers and industry trade groups, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, OTA has developed a checklist to help websites serve up native advertisements that don’t confuse consumers. These are OTA’s recommendations:
1.    Use OTA recommended disclosure terminology, refraining from creating unique and proprietary terms (see Appendix A in the report).
2.    If the disclosure term is pre-populated by third parties, require they comply with recommended terminology and site branding requirements.
3.    Make disclosures clear and conspicuous, maximizing discoverability and readability.
4.    Be consistent. Use the same disclosures in the same positions on the same site over time.
5.    Address readability across screens. Use/adapt disclosures for different devices, including mobile.
6.    Keep disclosure size readable for all ages. It is recommended that the disclosure text be no more than 2 points smaller than surrounding copy.
7.    Use recognized design standards, type styles, colors and adequate contrast for visibility. Use of all bold type and compressed letter spacing decreases readability.
8.    Identify consumer-facing sponsoring brands, not just the content service in the disclosure.
9.    Use color brand logos as applicable.    
10.    Review the use of supplemental co-branding of content providers and the impact on the user experience. Data suggests the inclusion of added co-branding may distract from providing consumers clear and intuitive disclosures.
11.    Delineate native units from page content through the use of rules (a horizontal line or border) and/or shading.
12.    Review compliance with accessibility requirements, including but not limited to adding alternative text descriptors for all images served.

The complete OTA Native Advertising Assessment report including visual examples of proper native ad disclosures is at https://otalliance.org/Native. A public briefing of the assessment will be on August 10 at 10am PDT/1pm EDT at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7553416560482195970.

About OTA
The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) is a non-profit with the mission to enhance online trust and user empowerment while promoting innovation and the vitality of the Internet. Its goal is to help educate businesses, policy makers and stakeholders while developing and advancing best practices and tools to enhance the protection of users' security, privacy and identity. OTA supports collaborative public-private partnerships, benchmark reporting, and meaningful self-regulation and data stewardship. Its members and supporters include leaders spanning the public policy, technology, ecommerce, mobile, interactive marketing, financial, service provider, government agency and industry organization sectors.

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