Beware when looking up advice online

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In today’s digital age, there are hundreds of thousands of articles on financial advice. A quick Google search of “credit repair” or “debt consolidation” will populate hundreds of millions search results from blogs all over the Internet. In all the noise of available advice on the Internet, how do you know what resources to trust?

In my quest to assemble great consumer tips and tricks on debt consolidation and credit repair, I came across many sites that had content that seemed like good advice, but also seemed like it was trying to guide me towards a particular product or service.

As it turns out, for every well-intentioned article available on the Internet, there are dozens of articles geared towards advertising a particular product. This form of marketing is called native advertising, and it’s rampant throughout the Internet today. Native advertising is the concept that corporations pay to have content about their products included in articles that align with the publication in style and tone, making it very difficult for readers to spot. [1]

Financial websites such as Forbes, have been participating in native advertising for several years. For instance, Forbes has a program called BrandVoice, which allows marketers to produce articles for Forbes.com and the magazine, which often resemble the look and tone of regular articles. [2] The articles contain general advice, but often also embed a “plug” for a particular brand or service. To their credit, Forbes maintains a staff of sponsored content specialists to work with the advertisers to ensure the article remains valuable to readers.

Forbes is not alone. In fact, other prominent financial websites use native advertising. For example, Fortune.com and Money.com work with Impact Partnership, a marketing organization, to pair advice on retirement and financial planning with native content from financial advisors across the country.[3]

Native advertising works. In fact, it might work too well. Click-through rates tend to be much higher than typical advertisements and readers are usually more engaged in the content. However, it can be problematic when readers, who are reading the articles for advice, rely on those articles, not realizing it was an advertisement.

This practice has garnered both positive and negative attention. On the one hand, the practice has arguably created a whole new business model for companies such as Forbes by creating new sources of revenue. On the other hand, consumer protection organizations call the practice is deceptive to consumers because readers may not always realize when the content is an ad. [4]

The practice has also raised eyebrows at the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is currently considering implementing regulatory measures on native ads, including plans to monitor the market to ensure that native advertising is being used in a manner than benefits consumers.[5]

For now, the FTC has not issued formal guidance on requiring disclosure, but there are rumors that it plans to do so. Additionally, industry organizations such the Interactive advertising bureau (IAB) has issued their own warnings to advertisers. They suggest that brands respect consumers and clearly label sponsored content as advertising. [6]

Until the FTC issues more rules and guidance on native ads, here are a few commonly accepted labels to help spot native ads.

  • “Advertisement” or “AD“ (Google, YouTube)
  • “Promoted” or “Promoted by [brand]”
  • “Sponsored” or “Sponsored by [brand]” or “Sponsored Content”
  • “Presented by [brand]” and “Featured Partner”

Lastly, its important to note that the advice provided in sponsored articles is not necessarily wrong or even bad advice. In fact, most of the advice in these articles is legitimate. But it is important that when your searching for advice on the internet, you use sources of information that you trust. Or at the very least, you should know when your reading an article that is intended to be an advertisement or promotion for a product. Be on the lookout for content in articles that promotes one specific product or service over others.

[1] http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/07/07/

[2] http://blogs.wsj.com/cmo/2015/01/04/forbes-takes-native-ads-to-new-level-with-att-sponsored-cover/

[3] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/impact-partnership-expands-relationship-with-fortune-to-include-money-fortune-knowledge-group-300022824.html

[4] http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-08-05/ad-industry-execs-weigh-in-on-john-olivers-native-advertising-takedown

[5] https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-revised-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

[6] http://www.iab.net/iablog/2015/01/what-happens-if-the-ftc-provides-native-advertising-guidance-in-2015.html

 

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