WB Caught in Shadows by FTC
Warner Brother’s popular video game Shadow of Mordor got a new audience – the Federal Trade Commission.
WB promoted the game using paid influencers to post positive reviews on YouTube. This including hiring influential gamers to post videos promoting Shadow of Mordor – videos that ultimately yielded more than 5.5 million YouTube views.
In addition to free game access, Warner Bros. paid the influencers cash – ranging from hundreds of dollars to five figures. Influencers’ videos were subject to pre-approval and, according to the terms of the agreement, Warner Bros. “will be deemed the author and exclusive owner.”
Warner Bros. was quite exacting in what else it required of influencers:
- “Video will feature gameplay” of the Shadow of Mordor game.
- “Video will have 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.”
- “Video will promote positive sentiment” about the game.
- “Video will not show bugs or glitches that may exist.”
- “Video will not communicate negative sentiment” about Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, its affiliates or the game.
Warner Bros. also required “One Facebook post or one Tweet by Influencer in support of Video.”
According to the FTC complaint, influencers were directed to place sponsorship information in the text of the description box – that’s the collapsed box just below a YouTube video – not in the video itself. Furthermore, they were told to put “information about [the game] above the fold” in the description box and that the “description box will include FTC disclaimer disclosing that the post is sponsored.”
But as the first example shows, only the top few lines of the description box are immediately visible. Without clicking the “Show More” button and possibly scrolling down, consumers wouldn’t see the sponsorship disclosure – especially since Warner Bros. mandated that game information had to come first.
The second screenshot shows an example of the sponsorship information at the end of the expanded “Show More” box and illustrates – inadvertently perhaps – the FTC’s concern with the placement of the disclosure. In this example, the gamer wrote “This video sponsored by Warner Bros.” and followed with this telling statement: “No one reads this far into the description … what are you doing snooping around.”
The complaint charges that Warner Bros. falsely represented that the Shadow of Mordor gameplay videos reflected the independent opinions or experiences of impartial gamers. The FTC also alleges that, in many cases, Warner Bros. failed to disclose – or failed to adequately disclose – influencers’ material connection to the company.
Among other things, the proposed settlement requires Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to clearly disclose material connections to influencers or endorsers. In addition, it puts provisions in place to educate and monitor what influencers do on the company’s behalf – and in certain circumstances, requires the Warner Bros. to withhold payment or terminate influencers or ad agencies that don’t comply.