A settlement between the Federal Trade Commission and Warner Bros. was reached on Monday following the allegation that the entertainment company failed to “adequately disclose” paying online influencers to make good reviews.
The FTC charged Warner Bros. of deceiving consumers during the marketing period of “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” a video game launched in September 2014. Sponsored videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times during the campaign, according to the official press release.
Warner Bros. is now ordered to prevent misrepresentation of gameplay videos as independent opinions or coming from impartial influencers. In addition, the company is required to disclose material connection with endorsers. Future campaigns must also exercise compliance to the terms of the order.
Each online influencer was said to be paid “tens of thousands of dollars” to provide positive gameplay videos. These include popular YouTuber PewDiePie, who has over 46 million subscribers to date, and other internet stars such as I Am Wildcat, Silentc0re and Siv HD, Variety noted.
PewDiePie’s video has been viewed more than 3.7 million times, which works out to over 50% of the total campaign views, the outlet said.
Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, expressed, “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches. Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
Warner Bros. allegedly failed to require the influencers to inform viewers that what they were watching was sponsored content.
The influencers were limited to giving out good words in Facebook posts, tweets and videos. According to Ars Technica, promotion videos had to include “a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box for the viewer to go to the [game’s] website to learn more about the [game], to learn how they can register, and to learn how to play the game.”
The consent agreement will be left for public comment until Aug. 10, after which the decision to make it final will be made.
Youtuber PewDiePie has since responded to the news of the FTC settlement in a video where he explains:
“It’s kind of bullshit. Yes, I could have disclosed it better. I could have put it above the fold… Basically, all these news articles are using me as a clickbait, putting my name to shame when I didn’t even do anything wrong.”