Warner Brothers has landed itself in trouble with a consumer watchdog for failing to disclose paid-for reviews signing up some of the world's top YouTubers to feature its products.
The entertainment company spent "hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars" to get YouTubers to talk about its products. Among them was PewDiePie, YouTube’s most followed personality, who was hired by advertising agency Plaid Social Labs on behalf of Warner Bros to promote Lord of the Rings video game - Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
The studio was found to have instructed influencers, including 'Pewds', to only reveal the promotional nature of the videos in the description section below the videos, where they could be easily missed by viewers.
The information too often appeared under the ‘show more’ tab in the description box.
“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.”
While Warner Bros. has not been fined, the FTC has prohibited it "from misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts."
It has also been advised to “[provide] each Influencer with a statement of his or her responsibility" to disclose endorsements clearly in the future.
The PewDiePie video racked up 3.7m views. The full FTC report can be accessed here.