image: Gucci

image: Gucci

Fashion brands have been hesitant to fully invest in branded content, but that is swiftly changing. Gucci, for instance, dramatically upped the ante for native advertising, announcing early this summer that would unveil its Pre-Fall 2016 collection by way of a fashion film series, starring an array of young “it” types (think: Lou Doillon, Marcel Castenmiller, Laura Love, and Rocco Di Gregorio, etc.).

The Florentine design house, under the creative direction of Alessandro Michelle, teamed up 23 Stories, Condé Nast’s branded-content studio launched in January 2015, to create the film, which will be distributed throughout six of Condé Nast’s U.S. publications: Vogue, GQ, the New Yorker, W, Vanity Fair and Pitchfork. Per BoF, “The film [series] — shot across five locations and broken into four episodes — was created to promote.” Yes, it is native advertising or sponsored content or non-traditional advertising or whatever term you’d like to use. In short: it is a commercial message (an advertisement) packaged to look like a non-commercial message (an editorial or film). 

As consumers – particularly those of millennial type – become increasingly immune to traditional forms of advertising, advertisers have been forced to evolve in terms of the content they provide. The result has largely come in the form of native advertising, product placements, social media ads, and the like. And Gucci is fully committed. The house’s president and chief executive Marco Bizzarri told BoF: “Digital narrative — whether through film, social media or native journalism — is the way that millennials in particular like to be engaged today. [It] will certainly play an increasingly important part of our strategy going forward.”

For the uninitiated, native advertising, which refers to relevant content delivered before, during or within and/or after an article, video, podcast, or other form of media, is of particular interest to advertisers and regulating bodies alike due to its ability to seamlessly fit into other content (and easily mislead consumers in terms of its purpose). And not surprisingly, with the rise of such advertising, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has issued guidelines for how to legally utilize native ads.

The FTC is the government agency that is tasked with promoting consumer protection, and eliminating and preventing anticompetitive business practices. In this role, the FTC issues guidelines (which are legally binding) that govern “Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” “DotCom Disclosures,” and most recently, Native Advertising, among other things. According to the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Native Advertising, publishers taking the role of an ad agency by creating content for marketers should make sure they’re not creating misleading native advertising. “For us, the concern is whether consumers recognize what they’re seeing is advertising or not,” Mary Engle, the FTC’s associate director of advertising practices said recently.

So, what exactly does acceptable native advertising look like? Well, Engle indicated that the FTC will focus less on the content of native advertising, and more on how such advertising is displayed and labeled on a website. We know that just having a “sponsored” label is not enough, and that sizing matters. The FTC has won cases where “advertorial” was presented in such a tiny font as to be misleading. As for what amounts to a deceptive ad: “An ad is deceptive if it misleads a significant percentage of consumers,” Engle said. That usually means 15% of consumers, and sometimes as few as 10% of consumers.

With the rise in non-traditional ads in mind and the FTC’s increasing awareness of the outlaw nature of the fashion industry when it comes to appropriately disclosing sponsored content, brands should be aware of some of the key do’s and don’ts that the FTC has suggested in order to avoid a Lord & Taylor-type legal smackdown:

 Use clear terms that will likely be understood by consumers, such as “Ad,” “Advertisement,” “Paid Advertisement,” “Sponsored Advertising Content” or a similar variation.

 Avoid using terms such as “Promoted” or “Promoted Stories,” which the FTC said are “at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site.”

 Using terms such as “Presented by, Brought to you By, Promoted By or Sponsored By” could increase the risk of consumers misunderstanding that it is an advertisement or that it might be endorsed by the publisher, an FTC attorney explained.

 Avoid using technical or industry jargon, different terminology about the same thing in different places on the publisher site that could cause confusion, and unfamiliar icons or company logos and brand names that are not associated with a clear text disclosure.

 Place disclosures on the main page of a publisher site and in front of or above a native ad’s headline, to ensure consumers notice them and easily associate the ad content with the disclosure. The FTC also advises that if the focal point of the ad is an image, the disclosure “might” need to appear directly on the focal point.

 If a disclosure relates to more than one native ad, an advertiser should provide “visual clues” to make it clear the disclosure relates to all ads in that grouping. In addition, if an ad is republished in “non-paid” search results, social media, e-mail or other media, the disclosure should remain.

 Disclosures should be placed at the point where consumers will first look when they arrive on the click-or-tap-into page and they be delivered to consumers in the context of multimedia ads before they receive the ad message.

 Ensure that background shading is “sufficiently saturated” for the consumer to notice it and make a distinction.

 Multimedia ads that contain an audio message “may” require an audio disclosure that should be presented in a “sufficient” volume so that consumers can hear and understand them.

 Video disclosures in multimedia ads should stay on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood.