Warner Bros. Interactive has settled charges filed by the FTC that it “deceived consumers during a marketing campaign” for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor by failing to adequately disclose that it paid "hundreds to tens of thousands" of dollars to YouTubers including PewDiePie for positive gameplay videos posted to YouTube and other social networks.
The videos were sponsored content, but WBIE didn't require the “influencers” in question to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose that relationship, as required by the FTC's endorsement guidelines. In fact, it told them to put disclosures in the video description box, which meant that most of them would appear “below the fold,” where they couldn't be seen at all without clicking the “show more” button. The net result, according to the complaint, is that “Warner Bros., through its marketing campaign, misled consumers by suggesting that the gameplay videos of Shadow of Mordor reflected the independent or objective views of the influencers.”
The settlement is especially timely in light of the recent CSGO Lounge and Steamloto/PsiSyndicate troubles, which turn on similar failures to disclose a financial relationship between influencer and advertiser. There may be a spot of good news in it for the people involved in those cases, however, as the FTC is not actually imposing any financial penalties against Warner. In fact, the pubisher doesn't appear to be facing any penalties at all, beyond a stern warning not to do it again.
“The proposed order settling the FTC’s charges prohibits Warner Bros. from misrepresenting that any gameplay videos disseminated as part of a marketing campaign are independent opinions or the experiences of impartial videogame 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,” the FTC memo says. "Finally, the order specifies the minimum steps that Warner Bros., or any entity it hires to conduct an influencer campaign, must take to ensure that future campaigns comply with the terms of the order.”
In other words, Warner is now required to do what it was already required to do. As punishments go, that's a pretty good one from the perspective of the transgressor, although now that the FTC has made it official, Warner could be hit with civil penalties if it does it again.