On the morning of July 12, 2016, entertainment website ‘The Verge’ broke the story that several prominent YouTubers (one of whom was the wildly popular ‘PewDiePie’) were paid “thousands of dollars” by Warner Bros. to give positive reviews to the video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. According to Ars Technica, Warner Bros.’ deal with these YouTubers stated that they were required to make posts to Twitter or Facebook about the game, and also had to produce videos about it. There were several caveats to the agreement, some of which prohibited the YouTubers from expressing negative opinions about the game (or Warner Bros.) or showing any bugs/glitches that may have been present in the game itself. The agreement also stated that each of the influencers who were paid to promote the game were required to make “a strong verbal call-to-action”, instructing viewers to click the link in the description box, so that they would be directed to Shadow of Mordor’s website to learn more about the game, learn how they can register, and learn how to play it.
The Unites States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint against the company (with a 3 – 0 vote), stating that Warner Bros. “failed to adequately disclose” that the YouTubers had been paid for what essentially amounted to advertising Shadow of Mordor. Under the terms of the agreement (reached on July 11, 2016), Warner Bros. is now barred from failing to disclose similar deals in the future, and is prohibited from pretending that any sponsored content (such as videos & articles) are the work of independent reviewers. Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said in a statement, “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 campaign.”
What does this mean for us as fans & consumers? Well, we here at PCU are always advocates of critical thinking, objectivity, and giving things the proper amount of scrutiny they deserve. While one old adage may warn you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, another warns you to take things with a grain of salt. What do you think, dear readers? Does this revelation color your view of online reviewers/gamers? Do you think that Warner Bros. was in the wrong with not choosing to obviously disclose that these YouTubers were being paid, or do you think that it shouldn’t matter? Let us know in the comments!