In this five part series, originally published in the Summer 2014 edition of the Media Law Resource Center Bulletin, we take an in-depth look at the native advertising phenomenon and the legal issues surrounding the practice. After canvassing the many faces of native advertising and the applicable law, the series ultimately examines the pervasive assumption that all native advertising is, and should be regulated as, “commercial speech.” This assumption presumes that all native advertising is equal under the eyes of the law, and we come to the conclusion that it probably isn’t. Native advertising that is closer to pure content than pure commercial speech may deserve greater or even full First Amendment protection, which would carry significant implications for government regulation.
Part 5 applies the commercial speech doctrine to native advertising and asks whether certain forms of native may be protected by the First Amendment.
Not all Native Advertising May Be Commercial Speech under the First Amendment
If there is one thing clear from the case law, it is that the commercial speech analysis under the First Amendment is a fact intensive one that does not clearly lend itself to bright lines, especially when dealing with mixed commercial and noncommercial speech. Native advertising also does not lend itself to a single categorization as it can take a number of forms. See Part I.A., supra. As discussed below, the appropriate level of First Amendment protection for native advertising as commercial or noncommercial speech should turn on the nature of the communication as opposed to a catch-all net.