Divergent approaches to corralling native in the wild tests which approach will be right

simon canning-picThe regulators of advertising online and in broadcast have revealed their guidelines on native advertising, but Simon Canning wonders what the outcome of two very different approaches to this burgeoning form of marketing will be.

There is something curious happening in the world of native and the regulations – sorry – guidelines and principles, that are defining just how much consumers are allowed to know about who is behind the content they are consuming.

For some, the world has been flipped on its head – the government regulators are going soft, while the industry association self regulators are ramping up the rules.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.53.19 amTwo weeks ago the broadcasting regulator ACMA – what many fondly refer to as the watchdog of commercial broadcasting – rubber-stamped a new set of guidelines for commercial television.

Buried within changes to the guidelines was a set of rules relating to factual programs which endorsed a third party’s product as a result of a commercial arrangement.

The guidelines are clear that the arrangement must be brought to the attention of the viewer. While there is provision there for the sponsorship to be highlighted within the programming, or during the credits, there is also a provision which allows the producer to make no mention of the arrangement within the program, but rely on people visiting the program’s website to find out about the disclosure of the native advertising.

Paul Barry on Media Watch took the ACMA to task over this provision, saying viewers could now be besieged with native advertising without ever being made aware of who was paying for it – a stance the ACMA rejected.

What was clear in the change though, is that when native advertising content is broadcast to adults (the rules are more stringent for content aimed at children), unless the viewer makes the effort of visiting the show’s website, they may never be aware what they were watching was a commercial.

Tom rossoThe Free TV guidelines, approved by the ACMA  but drawn  up by the networks, assume a certain level of sophistication on behalf of viewers who the networks believe understand the new commercial landscape where shows such as Royal Carribean’s Tom Rach and Rosso Go Cruising on Seven earlier this year and Nine’s Qantas reality series Ready For Takeoff have delivered brands directly into prime time.

While both shows have been clearly labelled as commercial content, under the new regime the acknowledgement requirements are far less strict.

And so to the Internets, where those in charge of self-regulation have taken an entirely different approach.

By comparison to the Free TV stance, the new “principles” adopted by the AANA and the IAB this week are positively draconian.

Native advertisers will have to clearly identify their content as being commercially driven, via devices such as logos, disclaimers and design elements that differentiate it from independent editorial content.

Research has clearly shown that where the content is good and relevant to consumers, they care not a jot about who has paid for it – but they do want to know it has been paid for.

Yet, there is a troubling woolliness about how the new IAB/AANA principles will be defined.

The AANA and IAB will require “prominent cues”, but one suspects the concept of a “cue” and what will be considered “prominent” may well lie in the eye of the beholder.

Like the lines between editorial and advertorial – yes, native – this one seems one seems a little bit blurry.

The creators of the new principles have relied heavily on the system introduced by the IAB in the UK earlier this year as the foundation for Australia’s approach and those boundaries have yet to have been fully tested.

Consumers will be the ultimate arbiters whether the IAB and AANA have got it right, as they will also be the judges of the less onerous approach the ACMA is applying to broadcasters.

But as the regulators try their different tactics to corral the wild new world of native the big question is, who will be the winners – the advertisers, publishers and broadcasters, or the the audiences they all covet?

Simon Canning is a journalist with Mumbrella 


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