Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment have found themselves in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over a deceptive marketing campaign for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Hot on the heels of the YouTubers who sneakily promoted a betting site that they actually owned, it turns out that Warner Bros paid ‘influencers’ such as PewDiePie and others to promote the game on YouTube and social media, without properly disclosing this information to consumers.
The FTC alleges that the campaign – which ran in 2014 – saw videos in which sponsorship was not adequately disclosed viewed more than 5.5 million times.
Warner Bros paid these online hosts ‘thousands of dollars’ for this coverage through it’s advertising agency, Plaid Social Labs.
GameSpot notes that PewDiePie’s video alone managed around 3.7 million views, but the video in question appears to have been removed from his channel.
Paying for positive coverage is allowed. However, the FTC will go after a company for failing to disclose when they’ve paid for coverage.
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich said that consumers should be informed whether or not someone is providing an actual opinion, or simply being paid to say good things about a product.
The FTC also alleges that Warner Bros failed to tell these influencers that they’d need to include sponsorship disclosures during the videos.
While Warner Bros told its paid hosts to include a disclosure in the video’s description box, the FTC points out that these disclosures were only visible to viewers who clicked the ‘Show More’ button. As such, when those videos ended up on sites like Facebook, the disclosure would be missing.
The FTC also pointed out that the influencers were required to submit their videos to Warner Bros for approval. The complaint alleges that Warner Bros ‘on at least one occasion’ approved a video that was missing the proper sponsorship disclosure.
As part of a proposed settlement order, Warner Bros would have to agree to better disclose when content is sponsored from now on.
It also requires that sponsored videos:
‘Clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products.’
In addition, Warner Bros, (or any firm working on its behalf), would have to make certain that any campaigns in the future stick to these rules.
This could in some cases mean that Warner Bros withhold, or even cancel payment if a sponsored video doesn’t do things by the book.
For a thrilling read, you can check out the entire FTC complaint here.
The proposed agreement will be floated in the public space between July 11 and August 10. After that, the FTC will decide whether or not the order becomes reality.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.