Warner Bros avoids FTC fine after paying YouTubers like PewDiePie for positive reviews

By midian182 · 19 replies
Jul 12, 2016
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  1. Even though 2014’s Shadow of Mordor turned out to be an amazing game loved by many, publisher Warner Bros. Interactive wanted to ensure it sold well. Part of the company’s marketing plan was to pay online “influencers,” such as YouTube star PewDiePie, to promote the title. While this is a legal practice, the problem came from the fact that many reviewers failed to disclose that they were being paid.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has now reached a settlement with Warner Bros over the complaint. The agency slammed WB for hiring social media firm Plaid Social Labs to pay influencers anything from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars to portray the game in a positive light.

    Anyone who received payments and early copies of the game had to adhere certain review rules. These stipulated that the game could only be portrayed in a positive light - not even early access bugs could be mentioned. Furthermore, reviewers weren’t allowed to say anything negative about Warner Bros. or its affiliates, and there needed to be “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.”

    Warner Bros. essentially had total control and ownership over the videos. And on top of everything else, the reviewers had to promote the video on one of their social network accounts.

    Plaid Social Labs told influencers to only disclose that the review was sponsored content at the bottom of the “Show More” box beneath the video, rather than in the video itself. This meant viewers who didn’t click on the description, along with those who watched the review on Facebook or Twitter, would assume it was an independent opinion.

    In some cases, reviewers completely failed to state that they had been paid to make the video. They only disclosed that they had received early access to the Lord of the Rings-based game.

    “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” said director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Jessica Rich, in a statement. “Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns.”

    While the settlement didn’t name any of the influencers that were involved, the FTC press release calls out immensely popular YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie. It noted that out of the 5.5 million views these videos generated, the Swedish star’s review accounted for 3.7 million of them.

    Warner Bros. has managed to avoid any fines for its actions and appears to have escaped with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The FTC ordered the company to make sure that influencers understand they must clearly disclose when payments have been made in the future.

    This isn’t the first instance of the FTC dealing with YouTubers passing off promotional videos as independent reviews. Back in September 2015, the Commission reached a proposed settlement with YouTube giant Machinima over a “false and misleading” promotion that paid video creators to speak nothing but positive words about the Xbox One.

    Permalink to story.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 12, 2016
  2. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,737   +3,757

    Can't trust big names. Not in the corporate world and not on YouTube either it would seem.
    Lionvibez, mantissteam and stewi0001 like this.
  3. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing. Posts: 3,021   +661

    I still do not see much difference between this and Payola (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola). Both are 'entertainment' and both involve large sums of money to 'influencers' without disclosure of their paid posturing. Unclear why this is legal and Payola is illegal.
    treetops and mbrowne5061 like this.
  4. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,681   +1,080

    So Warner Bros get a slap on the wrist for improper advertising tactics but if you pirate a Warner Bros movie or game you could go to jail and pay a fine?

    sounds so just and logical. *Sarcasm*
    treetops, saracenrush and psycros like this.
  5. BSim500

    BSim500 TS Evangelist Posts: 390   +668

    I don't know what's sadder - that even Youtube reviewers are bought and paid for, or the fact "PewDiePie" is the most popular video game reviewer...
  6. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,935   +762

    On Amazon, there are 9 reviews for a particular pci-e USB 3.0 expansion card. 8 of those reviews state that they either received a copy of the card or a discount on the card for providing a review. Personally, I do not get the warm fuzzies from that kind of review anyway. For me, it made those 8 reviews possibly biased even though they may not have been. Who knows if there was some kind of stipulations that those reviewers had to adhere to like, "you cannot cast a negative light over our card."

    Basically, if any company pays for a review of any kind, I am almost certain to discount it even if it is disclosed that compensation was received for the review.

    A company paying for a review, to me, anyway, is completely different than an independent review. It is not unlike having an actor do a commercial that gives the impression that the actor is a customer of the company that they are doing the commercial for - when the reality behind it is the actor is getting paid to do the commercial and may not be a customer of the company.
  7. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 1,936   +1,101

    The quality of todays youth is about on par with spider monkeys.
    psycros, oranuro and mantissteam like this.
  8. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,106   +1,282

    Anything with money is always treated special. Just look at any company or Hillary Clinton. You think a democracy would erase at least some of the class divisions but they are just as bad today as they were 100, 200, 300 years ago.
  9. tonylukac

    tonylukac TS Evangelist Posts: 1,374   +69

    You don't go to jail for pirating a movie.
  10. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,266   +436

    Should be pretty obvious the power they hold and you as an individual are not even close.

    They have an army of lawyers just sitting waiting for that call.
  11. matrix86

    matrix86 TS Guru Posts: 843   +38

    The last 4 items I bought from amazon had more than half of their reviews with people using those statements. I had to go to other sites to read reviews because I just felt like I couldn't trust the Amazon ones. It just seems to be getting worse and worse. But I can't really blame those reviewers. You get an item for free or discounted for a review, and then turn around and sell it and make a profit off of it. Good way to make some extra pocket change. Been thinking about doing it myself and becoming one of "those reviews" (don't judge me...I want that extra dough to help me finish my degree and pay for my wedding, lol).
  12. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,875   +1,293

    Been living under a rock for the past decade, have we? You might want to actually do a little research before saying something incredibly uninformed in a public forum.
    robb213 and stewi0001 like this.
  13. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,875   +1,293

    This is why I wouldn't waste time listening to "reviewers" on YouTube even if I had the bandwidth for it. These amateurs are accountable to nobody and have little if any professional ethics. People say their more trustworthy because they aren't working for a company that's all about the bottom line, but the fact is their far more desperate for revenue than most corporate outfits. That makes them even more vulnerable to corruption..and Warner Brothers should be getting a serious fine over this. So should "Pewdiepie" if he's got a business license, which I assume by now he must.
  14. robb213

    robb213 TS Maniac Posts: 330   +100

    Thank Chris Dodd and others in the industry who lobby the hell out of our "just" and "unbiased" elected officials.
    stewi0001 likes this.
  15. m3tavision

    m3tavision TS Rookie

    If you are so dumb, as to listen to a reviewer on YouTube... who is reviewing a game he is playing... then you deserve what you get.

    While instead, just watch the GAME they are playing (you do not have to listen to the retarded voice overs/opinions), and see if it meets your standards. Does anyone actually care what these self-righteous tubers think of themselves, or their opinion of a GAME?

    No sane person LISTENS to these pop tents... people just use their channels to SEE the game & gameplay. No one worth substance hinges their opinion on what some basement dweller has to say.

    Even sadder when these tubers are company shills.... and people actually have personal opinions, or follows the Reviewers with "likes", etc. lol.
  16. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    I had the same thought. When I worked for a radio station, they even have 'payola training' to make sure we didn't even accidentally promote an opinion that wasn't genuinely our own.
  17. treetops

    treetops TS Evangelist Posts: 2,073   +219

    Just like some of the stuff on amazon spammed with positive comments from alt accounts or paid commentors.

    "This foot massage is better then going to a massage parlor!"

  18. taimuraly

    taimuraly TS Booster Posts: 113

    I watched his response to his fans and agree with him; the only reason his name is being associated with these news articles is for click baiting. Give Felix, aka the wildly popular PewDiePie, some slack and I would like anyone interested in this story to watch this please;


    Summary of the video in case you don't like to view it;
    In the video above he explains that he actually did disclose that the video was sponsored in the video description - even though he was not required to. He also understands that he could have done it better on the questioned video. He talks about how he is not actually a game reviewer, how he does promotional content now that there are rules governing such sponsored content and in the end also rekts these news agencies.
  19. tonylukac

    tonylukac TS Evangelist Posts: 1,374   +69

    Do you know someone who went to jail for this? Now that cops are murderers, I just saw an article where someone got only 2 months for attempted murder. How much will they then give someone who stole a movie especially when people used to steal 5000 songs for their ipod 10 years ago?
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2016
  20. lazer

    lazer TS Booster Posts: 111   +26

    I once bought some sandals online and they were not cheap. When I got them I was overseas, so I had them ship to me. After too long of a time, I tried them on and they were terrible, they were very heavy and very narrow for the size to the point of hurting one of my toes.

    So it was too late to return them, but I went on line and gave them a lousy review. At the time I was the first and only review.

    The company contacted me and wanted me to remove my review. I told them the sandals were really junky and a big disappointment. So they offered to give me back my money, which I took.

    However, shortly afterwards I noticed that my review was down and 4 positive reviews were up.

    I recommend that positive reviews be taken with a grain of salt.

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