One of the hottest issues surrounding YouTube “influencers” over the past few years (and in particular the last couple of weeks) has been to do with proper disclosure. When a particular video has been sponsored by a company in order to feature a particular product, that needs to be made clear to viewers, and Warner Bros. have now settled an FTC complaint which stemmed from their online marketing campaign for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
The complaint states that “YouTube influencers were given free access to a pre-release version of Shadow of Mordor and cash payments often ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, provided that the videos they created about Shadow of Mordor met certain requirements defined by respondent.”
- Video will feature gameplay of the [Shadow of Mordor video game]
- Video will have 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.
- Video will promote positive sentiment about the [game].
- Video will not show bugs or glitches that may exist. … .
- Video will not communicate negative sentiment about WBIE, its affiliates or the [game].
- One Facebook post or one Tweet by Influencer in support of Video.
However, that YouTubers were paid and that they had to be positive about the game is not the problem here. That, plain and simple, is that these points weren’t disclosed clearly and disclosure was not enforced by Warner Bros. and their agency. Token statements hidden away in the “Show More” section of a video’s description, were not enough and often didn’t even appear.
Of the 5.5 million views that the campaign achieved, PewDiePie was singled out for mention in the press release, having accrued 3.7 million of those views on his own.
The FTC concluded that this was decieving viewers and that “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”
Update: Modified title to say ‘videos’ and not ‘reviews’.