FTC Gives Warner Bros a Slap on the Wrist for Shadow of Mordor Promotional Videos
There was a fair bit of controversy over Warner Bros’ promotion of the then-upcoming Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor. WBIE was very selective about who they gave early access of the game to and who would be able to post video about it before release. This was part of a promotional effort with YouTube influencers to promote the game in the run up to launch.
The US Federal Trade Commission doesn’t have a problem with paid promotional videos for video games. They do have a problem when those videos try to hide or not disclose that they were paid advertisements as was the case with the Shadow of Mordor videos. The FTC and WB reached a settlement over the matter and WB got off fairly lightly.
The announcement reads 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.”
The problem that the FTC had was that disclosure that the videos were paid ads were in the video descriptions and often hidden “below the fold” in the show more section of the video’s description, if there was disclosure at all. As not everyone will click show more or see the description of the video at all, the FTC ruled that this would be inadequate disclosure as not everyone would have seen the notice that the video they were watching was a paid video. As the advertising agency that WB hired encouraged this practice, the blame fell on WB rather than the YouTubers.
While the sales that WBIE made off of these videos can’t be quantified, the videos that were part of the program generated over 5.5 million views. Considering the popularity of YouTube for gaming news and content and the influence that popular personalities can have on some viewers (just look at the drama often caused by militarizing fan bases), it’s definitely a viable advertising option for gaming companies as evidenced by this campaign.
It makes me wonder why the FTC didn’t want to come down harder on WBIE. While we can argue all day on what is really adequate disclosure but if the FTC says that this isn’t and all WBIE got was a “don’t do it again.” If they wanted this to have any teeth, they would have imposed a fine but I suppose that’s a penalty for a second offense. Depending on how much they made off of this campaign, it might be worth taking the risk. The ruling does little to nothing to discourage or punish this action.
In case you were wondering, these promotional videos are worth a large chunk of change to the YouTubers making these videos. The FTC reports that in addition to a free copy of the game, the personalities in the promotion were paid between hundreds and “tens of thousands” of dollars for their videos. Presumably PewDiePie, whose video accounted for 3.7 million of the promotion’s views, was paid on that high-end. In a recent video, YouTuber Boogie2988 said that promotional videos that he had passed up for the first six months of the year would have amounted to over $10,000 in total with each being opportunity worth thousands of dollars.