FTC's New Mobile Ad Rules Could Impact Much More Than Ads

Television has been about the only media outlet where ads are adjacent—not overlapping—with the content. You see some show, you see some commercial, you see more show. (Let's not even get into product placement.) In mobile and Web sites, they usually co-exist. That means that ad activity can easily have a profound impact on the viewing experience. And the smaller the screen, the more of an impact it will have.

With that in mind, the Federal Trade Commission has changed some key mobile ad rules, mostly requiring better labeling for ad units. But such "better" labeling generally means larger and more prominent, which has little choice but to steal space and attention away from the primary content. Is that ultimately serving the interests of site visitors, especially mobile site visitors?

The updated FTC guidance to the major search engines requires that such ads "be clearly recognizable as separate from natural search results."

"The text label requirements—placement above or to the left of ads ('in front' of them)—and consistent wording, not calling them 'ads' in one placement and 'sponsored' in another, will potentially have a larger impact, depending on precisely how each engine chooses to implement the requested changes," Jeremy Hull, associate director of paid search at iProspect, told Mobile Marketer.

The new guidance also addresses voice search, which has been growing with the introduction of services such as Apple's Siri. The guidance states that if a voice is reading back search results it should be required to verbally indicate which results were advertisements. "As technology evolves and we see more verbal interactions with devices, it will make distinguishing paid and organic more challenging," said Roger Barnette, president of IgnitionOne.

A key issue with these new guidelines is that, with space at a premium, the inclination for advertisers is to indeed make themselves appear to be content. When an ad is as small as a mobile ad needs to be, confusion can be the ad buyer's friend.

For more:
- See this Mobile Marketer story

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