PewDiePie and other YouTubers were paid to promote video games with as little disclosure possible

Jul 13, 2016 - 2:10am AST

It’s no secret that many YouTubers are paid to promote products for major companies, but public disclosure has always been an been a topic of hot debate.

A press release recently issued by the FTC reveals that Warner Bros. paid influential YouTubers such as PewDiePie hundreds to thousands of dollars to promote a then upcoming game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, back in 2014.

The YouTubers were asked to just talk about the video game (not so much to review it) in video format, highlighting only the positive aspects and leaving out any comments about bug and glitches. They were then asked to promote those videos via their Twitter and Facebook channels for even more publicity.

In terms of disclosure, they were required only to put a disclaimer at the very bottom of their video descriptions, which isn’t visible by default as it falls “below the fold”. This is the section of the YouTube description which is hidden unless specifically expanded by the viewer.

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Complaints were filed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) based on the fact that non enough disclosure was made, especially given the fact that there were no sponsorship disclaimers within the videos themselves.

“Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”

The combined videos brought in 5.5 million views worth of promotion, with 3.7 million coming from PiewDiePie’s channel alone.

At the time, the action carried out by the YouTubers themselves would have been deemed acceptable, but the complaints against Warner Bros. focused on the fact that they claimed that their game was reviewed and discussed by independent gaming entities, with fair and balanced opinions.

As this was not the case, the FTC deemed their claims to be misleading to consumers, and now require that any form sponsorship be explicitly disclosed in future content.

The Commission’s complaint charges that Warner Bros., through its marketing campaign, misled consumers by suggesting that the gameplay videos of Shadow of Mordor reflected the independent or objective views of the influencers. The complaint also alleges that Warner Bros. failed to adequately disclose that the gamers were compensated for their positive reviews.

The proposed order settling the FTC’s charges prohibits Warner Bros. from misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products.

Warner Bros. was also issued a new set of guidelines that must be adhered to when sponsoring influencers to post positive content.

The order specifies the minimum steps that Warner Bros., or any entity it hires to conduct an influencer campaign, must take to ensure that future campaigns comply with the terms of the order. These steps include educating influencers regarding sponsorship disclosures, monitoring sponsored influencer videos for compliance, and, under certain circumstances, terminating or withholding payment from influencers or ad agencies for non-compliance.

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