The Federal Trade Commission and Warner Bros. have reached a settlement following an FTC charge that the publisher failure to alert consumers that it paid numerous YouTube personalities to post positive impressions of gameplay of 2013's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Per a statement from the FTC (via Rock Paper Shotgun), an FTC order states that "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 this context, "influencers" refers to popular personalities such as PewDiePie, one of the partners Warner Bros. worked with to spread positive impressions of Shadow of Mordor across YouTube and social media. According to Warner Bros.' terms and conditions for covering Shadow of Mordor, those "influencers" were required to put a disclosure announcing their affiliation with the publisher in the description box of their videos, rather than in the video itself, where more viewers would see it.
This time, Warner Bros. walked away with a slap on the wrist. Should the publisher make this mistake again, the FTC won't be so lenient. Warner Bros. must follow an explicit set of rules for collaborating with influencers, including: clearly stating that any gameplay videos made by its partners are the opinions of those partners; disclosing promotional materials and partnerships with influencers; and educating influencers on how to properly post disclosures, work with Warner Bros. to make sure their videos are on the up-and-up, and, when necessary, terminating payment and relationships with influences who fail to comply.
The FTC put the ruling into effect for the next 30 days, after which time it will decide if the ruling will be made permanent going forward. Should WB's rules be set in stone, future violations will result in civil penalties.
Note that although these rules only pertain to Warner Bros., all publishers are expected to follow them, and could be subject to the same rulings and penalties should they skirt them and get caught.
Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, weighed in. "Consumers have the right to know if reviewers are providing their own opinions or paid sales pitches. Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns."