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Warner Brothers Settles FTC Charges, Leaves Advertisers Searching for Rules of Paid Influencers

After paid online video reviews of the game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor received 5.5 million views but didn’t include proper disclosures as sponsored content, the FTC noticed, and so did the rest of the advertising world. Here’s how to protect your company and yourself.

Sponsored videos are mainstream and powerful, so much so they’re under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC recently charged Warner Brothers for paying online influencers to positively review the video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, without adequately disclosing the relationship between the company and those reviewers. In most cases, reviewers received hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars to post positive videos about the game.
The videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times across social platforms, showcasing the potency of online reviews especially when generated from online personalities with large followings. The settlement between Warner Brothers and FTC hasn’t been disclosed, but a new set of rules has been created. It’s important for advertisers to understand them. View the full list of FTC rules here, but some of the more important rules to consider are listed below:

  • There’s no special wording to use; a simple disclosure in a video or on a website like “Company X gave me this product to try…” will usually be sufficient.
  • For influencers, if a company paid money to review a product, it’s important to note in the disclosure that money was exchanged.
  • With online videos, it’s not enough to simply put the disclosure in the description of the video (see Pewdiepie address that issue here). It’s important to clearly verbally state in the video what you received for your review.
  • If there is a website full of product reviews that have been paid for, a single blanket disclosure is not considered thorough enough by the FTC. Each product review needs its own disclosure.
  • On platforms like Twitter with limited word counts, the FTC considers hashtags like #ad an effective way to inform readers of the full contents of a particular message.
  • It’s important for disclosures to be clear and conspicuous, meaning they should use unambiguous language, and stand out; the font should be easy to read. For videos, the disclosure should be on the screen long enough to be noticed, read, and understood.
  • If an influencer is getting paid to play a video game through a livestream, they need to run periodic, or continuous disclosures on the screen throughout the livestream.

These guidelines won’t likely change much about the nature of online sponsored reviews, though it might actually help make them more authentic. Users appreciate full disclosure, and just because a reviewer is being paid to use a product doesn’t mean the review has to be a glowing endorsement. If anything more enforcement from the FTC should foster an atmosphere of more transparency where advertisers look to glean ways they can improve their products as much as they hope to push those products into the digital world.

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