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DISCLOSURE, DISCLOSED: How Leading Web Properties Disclose In-feed Ads

DISCLOSURE, DISCLOSED: How Leading Web Properties Disclose In-feed Ads

The IAB Native Advertising Playbook outlined six types of native advertising formats and gave examples of commonly used disclosure language for each format. Because much has changed since the Playbook was published in December, 2013, the IAB Native Advertising Task Force sought to better understand what was happening in the marketplace today with a more comprehensive snapshot view of disclosure language as well as other visual cues used by leading web properties.

We focused on in-feed ad units, what a consumer sees in a site’s natural activity stream, as this format continues to grow and evolve with different ad types.* The goal was to better understand what cues web publishers were providing to help consumers distinguish between the paid ad and the surrounding editorial content before they clicked to the destination site or page. Study methodology is outlined below.

What ads and disclosure cues were evaluated?

IAB focused on the comScore Top 100 Most Visited Web Properties and evaluated in-feed ads on desktop only**. Of the top 100 web properties, 45 had in-feed ads. For each of these 45 web properties, we evaluated the individual publisher sites for those properties, bringing the total number of .com sites to 85. If a site had more than one in-feed native ad on a page (homepage and/or any article page that had a feed on them), we evaluated each ad on the page and counted it individually. The total number of ads evaluated was 117.

We focused on in-feed ad units, what a consumer se...

View infographic

Each in-feed ad unit was evaluated based on the same criteria:

1) Is there a Primary Disclosure Statement of any kind? (e.g., Sponsored by, promoted, etc.)

  • If yes, what is it, where is it found in the ad and is the type size larger, smaller or the same size as the ad copy type size?

2) Is the brand or company sponsor disclosed in any way?

  • If yes, how is it disclosed – logo, name or both?

3) Does the ad have any shading?

  • If yes, is it dark, medium or light?

4) Does the ad have a lined border, either a lined rule above or below or a complete boxed line?

5) Does the ad contain the AdChoices icon?

Note: Per guidance from the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), the entity responsible for enforcing industry’s Self-Regulatory Principles For Online Behavioral Advertising, enhanced notice such as the AdChoices icon is only required on native ads to the extent the native ad utilizes targeting based on prior browsing information.

6) Does the ad contain a separate roll-over link to provide the consumer with additional information such as the origin of the content in the ad? (e.g., “What’s this?” link)

*Because disclosure after the click at the destination page/site is also important, IAB plans to evaluate that aspect separately for in-feed advertising.
**We recognize that disclosure practices could vary on mobile vs. desktop due to size limitations and fluctuations. For example, IAB members have told us that in some mobile instances, a brand logo may not be included in the in-feed ad as it will not be readable. IAB is discussing ways to evaluate disclosure on mobile.


Leading web properties that have in-feed ads on their site(s) appear to be paying attention to helping consumers understand when they are viewing in-feed ads, using language and other visual disclosure cues to distinguish between surrounding publisher editorial content.

  • Less than half of the top 100 most visited web properties in the US have in-feed ad units on their site(s)
    • Of the 55 web properties that did not have in-feed ads, some sites have no advertising at all (e.g., – ranked #13 most visited), while others may have had different types of native adverting formats on their site such as Search, Product Listings or Recommendation Widgets. A link to the comScore list is seen in the Methodology section below.
  • There is near-universal use of a Primary Disclosure Statement (96%)
    • Statements that include some variation of the word “sponsored” are used by over half of all in-feed ads evaluated (55%)
    • Twelve percent of statements included a variety of words/terms including “Brought to you by”, “Advertisement presented by”, “In association with”, “Content from”, “In partnership with”, “Supported by” or language that is unique to that site (e.g., BrandVoice). That tabulation appears in the infographic below as “Other.”
  • The vast majority disclose the brand sponsor in some way (87%)
    • When the brand sponsor is disclosed, there is wide variation of how the brand/sponsor is disclosed. The most common presentation is with the name only (no logo) at 36%
  • Some type of visual border (a line above or below, or a full box outline) was also seen with the majority of ads (60%)
  • Other visual disclosure cues are used at varying and much lower rates including the use of any shading (35%), separate roll over link to provide more information (10%), and AdChoices icon (1%)

“We hope this snapshot view of in-feed disclosure practices will be helpful to publishers and advertisers alike, all with the aim of creating the best possible user experience,” said Jay Widlitz, Founder at Brandtale and member of the IAB Native Advertising Task Force, who aggregated the data for this study.

A Final Note

The benefit of better understanding the current in-feed ad disclosure landscape among key web properties is two-fold:

  • FOR PUBLISHERS: Providing a snapshot of the most commonly used disclosure cues by leading web properties will be helpful for those considering new disclosure options and also for those that are just starting native advertising on their site(s.)
  • FOR MARKETERS/AGENCIES: This learning will provide a sense of how their in-feed ads could be disclosed to the consumer and the variations that can occur depending on the site, noting that in-feed ad disclosure is at the sole discretion of the publisher.

Importantly, in no way are the learnings from this snapshot view of in-feed disclosure practices from leading web properties intended to suggest or imply that one disclosure practice, or set of practices is better or more effective than another. What we do know, however, as articulated in the original IAB Native Advertising Playbook, is that the native advertising landscape is rapidly evolving, with publishers working with advertisers with the goal to create increasingly effective ad experiences. Consumer perceptions of these ad products are changing as well, as viewers become accustomed and more experienced interacting with brands in new ways. For this reason, it is not possible to recommend a single, one-size-fits all disclosure mechanism for in-feed ads or the other native ad types. It is possible, however, to demand adherence to the core principle that regardless of context, a reasonable consumer should be able to distinguish between what is a paid native advertising unit vs. what is publisher editorial content in the feed.

IAB continues to recommend the disclosure principles set out in the IAB Native Advertising Playbook.

DISCLOSURE, DISCLOSED: How Leading Web Properties Disclose In-feed Ads 1

FTC documents relating to ad disclosure can be found here:

For more information on In-Feed Advertising Units, please refer to the IAB Deep Dive on In-Feed Ad Units and the IAB/Edelman quantitative consumer research study titled “Getting In-Feed Sponsored Content Right: The Consumer View.”


– IAB evaluated the Top 100 Most Visited Web Properties (Total Audience) in the US per comScore ranking (time period April, 2015).

  • Publisher websites were evaluated on desktop only focusing exclusively on in-feed advertising units, regardless of who powered the unit (e.g., custom or third party).
  • Excluded were In-Game ads due to their unique features. More information on In-Game ads can be found in the IAB Game Advertising Ecosystem Guide. Other native ad formats identified in the IAB Native Advertising Playbook (Search, Recommendation Widgets, and IAB Standard Ads with Native Elements) were thus excluded as disclosure practices for each format can vary.

– A two-step process was used to aggregate the data to determine if In-Feed native advertising was present on the site. This process was performed by Brandtale.

  • In-Feed Native ads were identified on each webpage using a similar technology methodology as Ad Block. For each site, every homepage and any article page that had a feed on them at the time were evaluated.
  • Note: This methodology cannot detect in-feed ads delivered from the same server as the content, using the same formatting; however, in instances where in-feed native ads were not detected with this methodology, a manual review of the site was conducted to determine if in-feed native advertising was present on the site.
  • The ad’s coordinates on the webpage were grabbed and a screenshot of the area was taken using a programmable web browser.

– Each ad was evaluated on the previously mentioned criteria by two separate people: one from Brandtale and one from IAB.


Susan Borst
Head of Social and Content Marketing Solutions
at IAB