YouTubers who produce paid promotional content may find themselves under close scrutiny in the coming months, as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has ordered publisher Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to clearly disclose its influencer partnerships in light of alleged violations of FTC guidelines.
The FTC alleges that misleading promotional videos produced with Warner Bros’ backing were viewed “more than 5.5 million times” over the course of a Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor advertising campaign in 2014. Warner Bros. has since settled charges of deceptive marketing with the FTC, agreeing to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose such partnerships in the future.
A complaint from the FTC previously alleged that Warner Bros. paid YouTube influencers “tens of thousands of dollars” to produce sponsored content presenting Shadow of Mordor in a positive light. According to the FTC’s complaint, Warner Bros. also instructed its partners to conceal sponsorship disclosures within YouTube video descriptions, rather than within the videos themselves, as FTC guidelines dictate.
The FTC alleges that many prominent YouTubers failed to properly disclose their paid relationships with Warner Bros, including PewDiePie, a popular user who currently boasts more than 46 million subscribers. PewDiePie’s Shadow of Mordor content alone was viewed more than 3.7 million times, according to the FTC.
This looks like a pie in the face for PewDiePie.
“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,” the FTC stated. “Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products.”
“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.”