Warner Bros has settled charges with the US Federal Trade Commission over a controversial 2014 marketing campaign for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, owning up to having paid prominent YouTube megastars like PewDiePie for gushing promotional game coverage without “adequately” disclosing that sponsorship to the public. Bad, Warner Bros. Bad.
“Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” said the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection boss Jessica Rich. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
Although paying for reviews is not technically illegal, the FTC has strict regulations about the transparency of sponsored content – in this case, basically advertising – and found that Warner Bros “failed to require the paid influencers to adequately disclose this fact”. The complaint reveals that PewDiePie and other influencers were paid “from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars” to create content that showed the game “in a positive way and not to disclose any bugs or glitches they found”. The deal also included additional promotional activity on Facebook and Twitter.
PewDiePie’s video generated almost four million views on its own.
According to the terms of the settlement, Warner Bros is banned from “failing to make such disclosures in the future and cannot misrepresent that sponsored content, including gameplay videos, are the objective, independent opinions of video game enthusiasts or influencers”. And, you know, the whole thing is sort of embarrassing for everybody involved.