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article imageFTC alleges that Warner Bros. paid thousands for game reviews

By Jack Derricourt     Jul 12, 2016 in Entertainment
Warner Bros. has reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after the entertainment giant allegedly spent thousands of dollars in exchange for positive reviews from popular YouTubers.
The company paid popular YouTubers to produce game reviews of their product Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The FTC was not satisfied that these reviewers properly declared their arrangement with Warner Bros..
Plaid Social Labs was hired by Warner Bros. in 2014 to carry out a YouTube influencers campaign. According to the FTC complaint, the campaign targeted popular video game channel hosts and paid between hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for sponsored content.
The complaint outlined the requirements for the YouTubers posting videos of the game:
- 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.
As the FTC argued, such restrictions on posted content could not be considered independent opinion on the part of the potential poster:
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.
While many posters followed instructions from Warner Bros. to include a note regarding the nature of the sponsored content in the video description text, the FTC states, on "at least one occasion Warner Bros. reviewed and approved an influencer video that lacked adequate sponsorship disclosure." Beyond this supposed lack of oversight, Consumerist pointed out that any sharing of the videos to Facebook or Twitter resulted in the disclosure of the nature of the videos being hidden from view.
The FTC and Warner Bros. came to an agreement, the nature of which results in no monetary penalty to the entertainment group. Warner Bros. does not to have to go on record as admitting or denying any of the allegations made in the complaint, but it has agreed to ensure any similar campaigns in the future must involve the proper education of influencers regarding sponsorship disclosure.
Younger audiences are turning to Youtubers more and more, and moving away from television. This makes sponsored content arrangements with popular hosts very desirable for companies hoping to maximize consumer interest in a product. The question becomes whether YouTubers should be held accountable for the nature of their opinions — whether they should be held up to the same ethical standards we expect from journalists. In the gaming world at least, the recent outcry from the public regarding a similar non-disclosure, and the FTC complaint against Warner Bros., would suggest that a level of disclosure is not only necessary, but expected by Internet-savvy viewers.
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