Shadow of Mordor Comes Under Deceptive Marketing Scrutiny by US Government [Update]

One of the videos, from PewDiePie, racked up 3.7 million views.

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Update: PewDiePie has responded to the story, claiming that he "didn't even do anything wrong."

He states in a new video that he wasn't required to disclose that he was paid for the positive coverage at the time. He also points to the fact that he did include a mention of the sponsorship in the description of the video and says other YouTube creators did nothing at all.

However, as GamesBeat reports, he was in fact required to disclose the partnership, per previously established FTC guidelines. Moreover, the reference in his video's description--which can only be seen after clicking the 'Read more' link--isn't enough to satisfy the requirements.

Prior to the video campaign in late 2014, the FTC told Gamasutra a "disclosure should be clear and conspicuous, and should be upfront and easy to see where the viewer won't miss it." A note in the video description (which would be absent when the video is shared outside of YouTube) isn't enough.

Original Story: The United States government today announced that it has proposed a settlement with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment over a deceptive marketing campaign for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The Federal Trade Commission said in a news release that Warner Bros. failed to "adequately disclose" that it paid "influencers" such as PewDiePie and others to promote the game on YouTube and social media.

The campaign in question ran in late 2014, before the game's release. According to the FTC, the videos in which sponsorship was not adequately disclosed were viewed more than 5.5 million times. Warner Bros., through its advertising agency, Plaid Social Labs, paid the online hosts "thousands of dollars" for the coverage, according to the complaint.

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PewDiePie's video alone racked up 3.7 million views.

Paying for positive coverage is not new or anything necessarily bad. But the FTC goes after companies for failing to disclose this. An Xbox One marketing campaign ran by Machinima also came under FTC scrutiny.

FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich said consumers have the right to be informed whether someone is providing their own opinion or is being paid to say nice things.

"Companies like Warner Brothers need to be straight with consumers in their online ad campaigns," she said.

Additionally, the FTC alleges that Warner Bros. did not tell its influencers that they needed to include sponsorship disclosures during the actual videos. On the other hand, the complaint states that Warner Bros. told its paid hosts to put the disclosures in written form in their video's description box. The FTC notes that these disclosures were only visible to viewers who clicked the "Show More" button. When the same videos were posted on Facebook or Twitter, the disclosure did not move to those sites, the complaint alleges.

What's more, the FTC claims that the contracts between Warner Bros. and influencers required the hosts to submit their videos to Warner Bros. for pre-approval. The complain alleges that "on at least one occasion," Warner Bros. reviewed and approved a video that did not contain the proper sponsorship disclosure.

As part of the proposed order, Warner Bros. must agree to better disclose when content is sponsored. It requires that sponsored videos "clearly and conspicuously disclose any material connection between Warner Bros. and any influencer or endorser promoting its products."

Additionally, the FTC's proposed settlement agreement states that Warner Bros., or any firm working on its behalf, must ensure that future campaigns adhere to these rules. This also includes educating influencers about sponsorship disclosures, as well as keeping track of sponsored videos to ensure compliance. In some cases, Warner Bros. might have to cancel or withhold payment if a video does not properly demonstrate compliance.

This proposed agreement will be floated in the public space for 30 days, starting today (July 11) and running through August 10. At this time, the FTC will determine if the proposed order becomes reality. If you want to sound off, you can send in your comments electronically here.

You can read the full FTC complaint here [PDF].

A Warner Bros. representative told GameSpot, "Warner Bros. Home Entertainment always strives to be transparent with our customers and fans when working with social influencers, and we are committed to complying with the related FTC guidelines."

Looking ahead, it's rumored that Shadow of Mordor developer Monolith is working on a sequel.

This post has been updated.

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