The “wildly popular” Swedish gamer and YouTube megastar vlogs his response to the FTC & Warner Bros. settlement underscoring the importance of disclosure and the phenomenal influence social media has over more traditional mastheads – writes Scott Guthrie
Earlier this week Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc. settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers during an influencer marketing campaign for the video game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, by failing to adequately disclose that it paid online influencers.
Felix Kjellberg a.k.a PewDiePie was among the influencers included in the Warner Bros. influencer marketing campaign which saw gamers paid to post gameplay videos on YouTube and other social media platforms.
PewDiePie has responded via vlog – not unsurprisingly – to the charges this week that Warner Bros. paid him and other digital influencers to promote a video game in 2014 and that proper disclosure wasn’t made.
PewDiePie comes off well in his video. His delivery is everything we love about YouTube creator ‘megastars’. He’s passionate, relatable, authentic and unvarnished.
He’s also become massively wealthy from his YouTube career earning a reported $12m in 2015 according to Forbes.
There are other reasons the Swedish gamer would want to make a clear stance on the situation.
PewDiePie is no longer a solo act. In January 2016 he launched his own MCN (multichannel network), Revelmode.
Distancing himself from Warner Bros. won’t hurt either. Revelmode is part of the Maker Studio MCN – a division of The Walt Disney Company.
Meeting influencer marketing disclosure regulations
The FTC charge against Warner Bros. wasn’t that the sponsorships including PewDiePie’s were not disclosed. The YouTuber shows his audience in the vlog that he did disclose the commercial relationship with Warner Bros.
The charge was that disclosures were not done so “clearly and conspicuously.” The FTC said disclosures in the description of the videos weren’t adequate.
The Swedish vlogger does admit he could have done a better job of disclosing the commercial nature of his content.
FTC guidelines state that an influencer must disclose, clearly and prominently, whether content has been paid for.
Words like “sponsored by” or “brought to you by” don’t cut it on their own. Proper disclosure means sticking #ad above the fold – preferably in the header and then being open about the commercial relationship and who it’s with. In this case including something like: “A paid-for promotion by Warner Bros.”
Ensuring past content complies with current influencer marketing guidelines
The FTC settlement with Warner Bros. does raise an interesting point about the permanent nature of YouTube videos. PewDiePie reminds us that the videos were made in 2014. The FTC did not produce guidelines on influencer endorsements until May 2015 and on native advertising until December 2015.
Creators should be encouraged to go through their back catalogue of content and make sure it all complies with current disclosure (and Google guidelines).
Brand, PR practitioner and influencer have duty of care with disclosure
Meeting disclosure regulations is the duty of all parties – of the commissioning brand, the creator and the PR practitioner managing the work.
Commercial benefits of robust disclosure in influencer marketing
Many brands still try to hide the commercial relationship they have with their influencer. They think that prominently disclosing that the content is paid for will detract from the content’s authenticity of voice.
The opposite is true. As consumers we don’t have a problem with native advertising on the proviso that:
- we don’t feel hoodwinked into believing it’s editorial content we’re engaging with
- the content adds value by being good quality
Individual voice larger than media masthead
I particularly like the line he throws out to traditional media who he says have been complaining that he’s yet to respond to them. “A lot of these articles say ‘we’re still waiting on PewDiePie for a reply. We’re still waiting for PewDiePie to respond to this horrific act that he has committed.”
His response? “I don’t F**king need you. I have an audience. I can talk to them.”Going further he calls mainstream media “insignificant” and infers that they know it too.
PewDiePie does have his own audience. He has a YouTube subscriber base larger than the population of Spain at 46.2 million. His videos have been watched 12.7 billion times.
FTC promoting its cause about influencer marketing disclosure
This leads on to my last point. The FTC name checks PewDiePie in its settlement documentation with Warner Bros labelling him as “wildly popular”. This can’t fail to help the FTC’s cause in driving home its point that influencers gotta disclose.
I just did a quick Google search on “Lord and Taylor FTC” -the last significant influencer marketing settlement between a brand and the FTC over disclosure rules. The search surfaced 357,000 results.
- The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking (May, 2015)
- Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses (December, 2015)
- Online reviews and endorsements: Guidance for traders and marketing professionals (June, 2016) (opens as PDF)
- Online reviews and endorsements CMA letter to marketing professionals (April, 2016)
- The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code
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