FTC recommends brands avoid “blurred advertising” when marketing to kids

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The Federal Trade Commission is worried about blurred lines. No, not that one. It’s worried about how “blurred advertising,” or ads that don’t clearly look like ads, could impact kids.

Last week, the FTC released new recommendations for advertisers to more clearly distinguish between entertainment and ads.

While many advertisers might love an immersive, contextual, dare we say organic environment, the FTC is concerned that children may struggle to tell the difference between what’s just content and what’s a paid advertisement, “potentially leading to deception, as well as physical, psychological, financial, privacy, and other harms,” a post about its recommendations reads.

Its advice? Don’t do it. “The best way to prevent harms stemming from blurred advertising is to not blur advertising. There should be a clear separation between kids’ entertainment and educational content and advertising, using formatting techniques and visual and verbal cues to signal to kids that they are about to see an ad,” the post notes.

The commission provided some suggestions on how to avoid this blurring. For instance, it suggested including written and verbal disclosures that can help signify that something is an ad, pointing to lines such as, “We will be right back after these commercial messages.”

The FTC also suggested that stakeholders “work together to create and use an easy-to-understand and easy-to-see icon to signal to kids that money or free things were provided to the content creator to advertise the product.”

The recommendations extend to nearly all channels, from video to social media to gaming platforms. According to a stat cited in a paper that the FTC compiled on the topic, some teenagers may see 1,260 ads per day.

“We now live in a world where kids spend many hours a day online, often in immersive environments where advertising and content are deliberately difficult to distinguish,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, wrote in the post.

Earlier this summer, the FTC updated its endorsement guidelines for the first time since 2009. Though the guidelines weren’t all that surprising, they continued to beat a drum the FTC has been banging for awhile now—that all sponsored content should be clearly labeled.

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