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Are There Teeth Behind the FTC's Native Ad SnarlTwo months ago, the FTC held its first native advertising workshop. Though the participants did not hatch specific regulations to guide this nascent market throughout the coming year, one thing was made undeniably clear – the FTC is watching native advertising very, very closely.

In January, Jessica Rich, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau, told AdWeek that native ads are front and center on her radar.

“Native advertising will be a huge and continuing theme in our work,” Rich admitted. “I want to make a broader push into mobile, mobile security, mobile payments, making sure we are able to bring mobile investigations, just as we are able to bring brick-and-mortar investigations.”

But while the FTC has continued to snarl in the direction of native advertising for the stated good of consumer protection from deceptive advertising practices, are there really any teeth behind the growls we keep hearing from the FTC?

You Mon Tsang, chief marketing officer at Vocus, doesn’t seem to think so. In a new op-ed published Thursday, Tsang expressed his view that the FTC’s bark is much worse than its bite.

The FTC has hunted “masquerads” since at least 1917, when the maker of the first electric vacuum cleaner ran a newspaper ad that looked like a third-party review. But the FTC’s effectiveness peaked before the digital age and continues to wane.

In the online world, the FTC doesn’t have the flexibility to make a difference on native ads. Every few months, a new form of media or piece of technology emerges, making it nearly impossible to properly patrol major media outlets. On the other hand, technology has empowered individuals to become highly trafficked media outlets, which further complicates potential regulation.

“Luckily,” Tsang concludes, “FTC regulations haven’t hit marketers, advertisers, and publishers yet, and hopefully the trend continues. But that’s not to say native advertising will become the Wild West. If not the FTC, then who? Brands, publishers and consumers have the ability and incentive to police sponsored content. If a brand or publisher camouflages sponsored content as editorial content or violates journalistic best practices, readers will recognize it and take to social media to expose bad actors.”

To read the insightful editorial in full, click here.

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