Influencers

Google and iHeartMedia allegedly paid radio talent to promote the Pixel 4—without ever giving them the phone, according to the FTC

The FTC and seven states sued the two companies over what they believe are “deceptive” ads.
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Google and iHeartMedia have settled with the FTC and seven states over allegations they were stingy with influencers.

On Monday, the commission said it believes the two companies paid influencers (in this case, on-air radio talent) to promote Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone in testimonials without ever actually providing them with the phone in the first place.

“Google and iHeartMedia paid influencers to promote products they never used, showing a blatant disrespect for truth-in-advertising rules,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in an announcement.

According to the complaint, Google spent approximately $4.6 million with iHeartMedia and 11 other radio networks to “have on-air personalities record and broadcast endorsements of the Pixel 4” between 2019 and 2020, resulting in “29,000 deceptive endorsements by radio personalities” that ran across the US; Google provided them with scripts that included the following cringey reads:

  • “It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight.”
  • “I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything…my son’s football game… a meteor shower…a rare spotted owl that landed in my backyard. Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?”

Ultimately, those were “misleading endorsements,” according to the FTC.

As part of the settlement, Google and iHeartMedia have agreed to pay a total of $9.4 million to Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts, which sued the companies with the FTC.

“We are pleased to resolve this issue. We take compliance with advertising laws seriously and have processes in place designed to help ensure we follow relevant regulations and industry standards,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda wrote to Marketing Brew over email; iHeartMedia declined to comment.

Zoom out: Testimonials are a tried-and-true advertising strategy. They’re basically unavoidable in podcast ads, for example. The FTC is making it clear that it expects companies to follow truth-in-advertising rules. However, Google and iHeartMedia are bigger fish than your average DTC brand.—RB

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