Warner Bros. Busted For Paid YouTube Reviews

A top-selling U.S. video game publisher that paid top YouTube influencers big money for positive reviews is being publicly shamed by a government watchdog group for deceiving consumers.

Warner Bros., which led the U.S. video game industry in market share in 2015, has settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that Warner failed to disclose that several video reviews were “sponsored content”.

PewDiePie, whose YouTube channel has more than 46 million subscribers, was the only influencer named in the announcement. He, and other influencers, were paid for positive reviews of a top-selling video game, “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor”. In total, these paid reviews amassed 5.5 million views on YouTube.

When done right, influencer marketing can be beneficial. However, here are five things Warner Bros. did that got them in big trouble with the FTC (hint: if you don’t want your influencer marketing to suck, don’t do these five things!).

1. Demand A Positive Review

If you’re paying up to “tens of thousands” of dollars for a review, ideally you want something positive, right? That’s what Warner Bros. required, according to the FTC.

The influencers were told to “promote the game in a positive way and not to disclose any bugs or glitches they found.”

Did Warner Bros. make it clear that these influencers were being compensated for not just a review, but a positive review? Not according to the FTC.

Here’s the thing. Influencer marketing is based on trust and authenticity. If influencers are forced by brands to lie to their audience, they cease to have any credibility, and then lose some (if not all) of the influence they ever had. You must give up creative control.

2. Hide That ‘Sponsored’ Disclosure

Another thing that got Warner Bros. in trouble was essentially “hiding” the required disclosure that the review was sponsored.

The disclosure appeared in the video description, but to see it people would have to click on the “Show More” button. In promoting the video on other social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, there were no adequate disclosures, according to the FTC.

This can’t happen again. According to the FTC, Warner Bros. shall never again misrepresent “that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Further, it requires the company to clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products.”

3. In Fact, Just Forget That “Sponsored” Disclosure Entirely

Warner Bros. failed to instruct the influencers to include sponsorship disclosures “clearly and conspicuously” within the video so consumers could see or hear that these influencers had been paid to promote the game. Some influencers only said they were given early access, not revealing they were being paid for a positive review.

That’s why, heading forward, the FTC is requiring Warner Bros. to:

  • Educate influencers regarding sponsorship disclosures.
  • Monitor sponsored influencer videos for compliance.
  • Terminate or withhold payment from influencers or ad agencies for non-compliance.

4. Ask For Pre-Approval

At least one time, Warner Bros. contractually demanded pre-approval of a video, according to the FTC. Even though that influencer failed to disclose that the review was sponsored, Warner approved it.

“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.”

5. Get Caught

Is this going on with other brands and companies? Of course. Brands are paying influencers to use their influence with their audiences in the hopes of generating awareness and increasing sales.

If you’re running a shady influencer program, the biggest trick is to avoid getting caught.

For Warner Bros., they won’t have to pay a penny in fines. If and when you get caught, however, don’t think you’ll get off with such a light slap on the wrist. Unless, of course, you have as many lawyers on retainer as Warner Bros. no doubt does.

Bottom line: if you pay influencers for reviews, make sure you clearly disclose it!