California-based game PR firm Reverb Communications has been charged with deceptive advertising after members of its staff were found to have posed as ordinary consumers posting game reviews for the firm’s clients’ titles on the iTunes store.
The US Federal Trade Commission said it will settle the complaint it made against Reverb, whose clients include Harmonix, THQ Ice, SouthPeak and Playlogic. Under the proposed settlement order, Reverb and its sole owner, Tracie Snitker, will be required to remove any previously posted endorsements that misrepresent the authors as independent users or ordinary consumers, and that fail to disclose a connection between Reverb and Snitker and the seller of a product or service.
The agreement also bars Reverb and Snitker from misrepresenting that the user or endorser is an independent, ordinary consumer, and from making endorsement or user claims about a product or service unless they disclose any relevant connections that they have with the seller of the product or service.
The settlement doesn’t include a fine, but the FTC can seek fines if Reverb violates the settlement order.
Reverb agreed to the settlement after "it became apparent that we would never agree on the facts of the situation", Snitker said in an e-mail to Reuters.
"Rather than continuing to spend time and money arguing, and laying off employees to fight what we believed was a frivolous matter, we settled this case and ended the discussion because as the FTC states: ‘The consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute admission by the respondents of a law violation,’" she added.
“Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising,” said Mary Engle, director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices. “Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”