Native Advertising: Information or Illusion?


Hajer Labidi, Marcel Boucher


Union des consommateurs




Native advertising (also known as editorial advertising) refers to the practice of carefully integrating advertising into journalistic content, consciously tailoring the look and appearance of their advertising to reflect the media platform. In spite of its growing pervasiveness, native advertising poses several ethical problems. Firstly, it erodes the line that separates journalistic and commercial content, thus opening the door to potential conflicts of interest between economic and journalistic priorities. This conflict of interest also has the potential to undermine public confidence in our journalistic institutions. From a consumer perspective, the merging of journalistic and commercial material leaves people vulnerable to manipulation and threatens our constitutional right to independent and trustworthy information.
Like all advertising in Canada, native advertising is regulated by the Competition Act and Provincial consumer protection laws, which prohibit misleading representations and advertisements. Unfortunately, there is much uncertainty about how these laws should be applied to native advertising and the digital context. In this study, Union des consommateurs sent a field survey to their relevant stakeholders. They found that the practices of most of the 15 Canadian news organizations they analyzed were reprehensible. There was, however, a remarkable consensus among stakeholders about the importance of transparency and the need for a boundary between journalistic and commercial content. However, there was far less consensus between stakeholders regarding the idea of imposing a legal or regulatory framework for native advertising.
This study also analyzed the legislative models of foreign governments regarding native advertising. One noteworthy approach from Belgium imposes an obligation to write “advertisement” near all advertising content. The French government applies the presumption of a misleading practice regarding editorial content in the media when disclosure of the advertising nature is inadequate. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has also begun to take concrete action against native advertising. Given the findings of the field survey, Union des consommateurs recommends tightening standards and intervening legislatively in matters of native advertising.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

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Union des consommateurs
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(514) 521-6820
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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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