Warner loses FTC judgment over video game promotion
Did you ever watch PewDiePie playing Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor? Did you realize it was an ad? The Federal Trade Commission realized it and today has penalized Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc., for failing to disclose that fact.
The FTC said Warner paid online "influencers," including the wildly popular "PewDiePie," thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos on YouTube and social media. Over the course of the campaign, the sponsored videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times. So, if you saw one of those videos, you were just watching an ad.
Under a proposed FTC order announced today, Warner Bros. is barred from failing to make such disclosures in the future and cannot misrepresent that sponsored content, including gameplay videos, are the objective, independent opinions of video game enthusiasts or influencers. In other words, if anyone gets paid to make such a video, viewers have to be told up front.
"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 FTC's complaint stems from a late-2014 Warner Bros. online marketing campaign designed to generate buzz within the gaming community for the new release of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, a fantasy role-playing game loosely based on The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was released in 2014 for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Felix Kjellberg is a Swedish web-based comedian and video producer, best known for his Let's Play commentaries and videos on YouTube with a pseudonym of PewDiePie. As of June 2016, the channel has received more than 12 billion video views. In 2016, Time magazine named him one of "The World's 100 Most Influential People."
In July 2014, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that Kjellberg's production company, PewDie Productions AB, reported earnings equal to $7.5 million in American dollars in 2014.