The Federal Trade Commission has settled a new case in its long-running crackdown on online reviewers who aren’t up front about taking money from sponsors.
The federal agency settled its complaint against Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc., that the company deceived consumers in a marketing campaign that involved paying YouTube celebrities for gameplay videos endorsing the company’s video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
The FTC accused Warner Bros. of paying hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for online influencers to produce videos that appeared to be neutral but actually followed directions not to mention any glitches or issues with the game or to say anything negative about the game or the company. The video game was released in 2014.
The influencers included YouTube superstar “PewDiePie,” who attracted nearly 3.7 million of the total 5.5 million views scored by the YouTube and social media campaign for the game. PewDiePie is a young comedian and social commentator who reached 10 billion total views on YouTube in 2015.
While many of the videos included on-page disclosures of sponsorship (as included in the directions from Warner Bros.) they were intentionally placed in a box near the videos that could only be accessed by clicking for additional information, the complaint said. The FTC said the disclosures should have been clearly displayed in the videos themselves.
“Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches.”
The ruling continues the FTC’s policing of online influencers. Recently, the agency settled with retailer Lord & Taylor for a 2015 campaign for its Design Launch clothing collection. The FTC said it was not clear that the ads and content posted online about the collection were paid for by the company.
The federal agency has been regulating “mommy bloggers” since releasing guidance in 2009 that blogs that include reviews or comments about baby products must mention whether the merchandise was given to the blogger or was an independent purchase.
Under the Warner Bros. settlement, the company is banned from any marketing campaign that does not adequately disclose payments to influencers so that consumers can determine if the representations are the real opinions of the influencers or are simply paid endorsements.
Read the FTC’s statement on the case.