Is a PewDiePie video a commercial or an independent review? That's what the Federal Trade Commission wants to make sure Warner Bros. Home Entertainment makes clear after settling with the agency over charges of not disclosing who they paid to advertise a 2014 video game.
Warner Bros. was slammed by the FTC for not clearly representing that Felix Kjellberg (popularly known on YouTube as PewDiePie) and other online "influencers" were paid as part of a marketing campaign for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Those involved in the campaign were paid between hundreds to thousands of dollars for their participation, created sponsored videos that garnered more than 5.5 million views, received advance-release copies of the game and were told how to promote it. The arrangement required the influencers to promote the game positively, and to not disclose any bugs or glitches found while playing.
"Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches," said Jessica Rich, the FTC's director of the consumer protection bureau.
Kjellberg's video alone was watched 3.7 million times, the agency said.
This type of sponsored content is nothing new, but the FTC alleges that Warner Bros. did not instruct influencers to clearly disclose the agreement. Instead, Warner Bros. reportedly told participants to place the disclosure in the description box below the video, which would often require a viewer to click the "Show More" button in order to see it. These disclosures would often end up being completely hidden when embedded onto Facebook or Twitter posts, as that button generally doesn't appear when YouTube videos are placed onto those platforms.
Following the settlement announced Monday, the FTC is ordering Warner Bros. to follow guidelines for disclosure in future marketing campaigns, which include educating influencers on how to disclose the arrangement, monitoring the videos for compliance and when needed ending payment agreements if these steps are not taken.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment did not immediately return requests for comment.