Warner Bros settles after claims it paid YouTubers for positive game reviews

13 Jul 2016

YouTube star PewDiePie is one of the ‘influencers’ who Warner Bros. paid to review Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which the FTC alleges was not clearly explained

Warner Bros has agreed a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after the latter charged it with paying for game reviews without clearly revealing the financial relationship.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is more than a game, it’s the subject of a major case between the FTC and Warner Bros, bringing the weird world of online ‘influencers’ to the fore once again.

PewDiePie and beyond

Future Human

The FTC claimed Warner Bros. failed to “adequately disclose” that it paid YouTubers – including the immensely popular PewDiePie – “thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos” during a 2014 marketing campaign.

The main issue seems to be an allegation by the FTC that Warner Bros did not insist upon sponsorship disclosures “clearly and conspicuously” in the video reviews themselves.

Instead, the disclosure may have been listed in the description box below the video, which is not necessarily where viewers focus their attention.

Additionally, when these ‘influencers’ posted their videos onto other forms of social media, the disclosure may have been hidden behind a ‘show more’ button that is not presented when you leave YouTube.

PewDiePie’s review, for example, has more than 3.7m views on YouTube and the disclosure is not visible until you click the show more button (bottom half of below image).

Warner Bros PewDiePie

The disclosure is certainly included by PewDiePie, which Warner Bros could understandably argue, however, the FTC’s complaint is that it’s in a fairly obscure position

Changes in future

The company is now banned from “misrepresenting” in such a way in future.

“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.”

The world of ‘influencers’ is an odd one, with companies seeking out social media users with massive followers in a bid to promote their products to a wide, yet tailored, audience.

Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor PewDiePie

Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, via YouTube

When instances like this Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor dispute emerges it undermines the whole thing, and raises questions around regulation etc in what is a relatively new developing area.

Main image of PewDiePie via Camknows/Flickr

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic