Microsoft paying YouTube personalities for positive Xbox One endorsements
21 January 2014 | 0
Ars Technica has reported that Microsoft secretly paid YouTube personalities who promoted the Xbox One at a rate of three dollars per thousand views – often on channels that regularly receive millions of views per video.
Popular games platform Machinima has become the focus of this scandal. The promotion was advertised by Machinima UK in a now-deleted tweet, since confirmed by a leaked e-mail. What’s unclear is the breadth of Microsoft’s efforts. It’s doubtful Machinima was the only entity contacted.
Per the Machinima e-mail, the rules were simple: incorporate 30 seconds of game footage into a video and specifically mention that it’s played on an Xbox One; tag the video with XB1M13; then submit the link through Poptent, a platform that specialises in crowd-sourced video marketing campaigns like Microsoft’s. As part of the deal, content creators were told to keep the promotion secret.
A copy of the full legal agreement behind the promotion escaped into the wild. In it, there’s a confidentiality section that states, “You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above”.
Additionally, creators “may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One, or any of its games” in their videos.
So Microsoft is paying for positive word-of-mouth from trusted community figures, in secret. Such faux grass-roots campaigns – known as astroturfing – are particularly effective because they don’t look like advertising, so viewers typically have their guards lowered. It’s also far cheaper than traditional advertising.
Ars Technica uncovered a similar Microsoft/Machinima promotion from November of last year (when the Xbox One launched). The tactic comes with some legal problems. Under FTC rules (PDF), bloggers are supposed to make it clear which posts are paid endorsements, meaning the Microsoft deal could put some content creators at risk of being sued.
How will this revelation affect the YouTube games community at large? YouTube personalities gained sway largely because they were seen as trustworthy as they don’t rely on advertising dollars. Revelations like this potentially hurt the credibility of not just those few personalities who took advantage, but the entire platform. Whether viewers will actually care is another story.