The Dark Souls of Podcasts
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission has settled with Warner Bros. in a dispute over the advertising for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor– namely that the company paid “hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars” to popular “influencers” such as PewDiePie in order to garner positive reviews for the title. Although this kind of advertising isn’t unheard of, the problem lies in the fact that in many cases, the sponsorship was never disclosed.
The press release details that although some of these influencers did indeed make mention of the sponsorship, it was often placed beneath YouTube’s “Show More” cut, thus hiding it from plain view and eliminating the disclosure completely when the video was reposted on other sites such as Twitter or Facebook. In addition, the deal with Warner Bros. prevented YouTubers from mentioning anything negative about the game such as bugs or glitches, and made all videos subject to marketing pre-approval.
According to a proposed FTC order, companies like Warner Bros. will no longer be able to “[fail] to make such disclosures” in order to prevent the “[misrepresentation] that sponsored content, including gameplay videos, are the objective, independent opinions of video game enthusiasts or influencers.” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, stated that “Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches,” which forms the backbone of most of the complaints launched at Warner Bros.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an Internet personality being paid to advertise a product – after all, where would we be without celebrity endorsement? However, such sponsored advertising should be made more clear, especially when there’s little genuine opinion to be found. Recently we’ve seen a larger FTC crackdown on misleading YouTube promotions, so hopefully such neglectful practices will eventually be phased out.