PR firm settles claims of fake games reviews

A public relations agency is to settle with the FTC over charges that  its staff posed as members of the public to post fake reviews of video games developed by its clients.

Reverb Communications represents a number of games developers, including Harmonix, creator of Rock Band. The company and its owner,Tracie Snitker, were accused of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff pose as ordinary consumers to post game reviews.

Between November 2008 and May 2009, Reverb and Snitker posted reviews about their clients’ games at the iTunes store using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by impartial consumers, says the FTC.

They didn’t disclose that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of the sales.

Reverb denied the allegations, claiming that while staff had posted reviews, they’d done so after buying the games with their own money and playing them in their own time.

“Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by long-held principles of truth ina dvertising,” 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.”

Under the proposed settlement, Reverb and Snitker are barred from misrepresenting themselves as ordinary consumers, and from endorsing or making claims about a product or service unless they disclose any relevant connections with the seller.

They’ve also been ordered to remove any previously posted endorsements that misrepresent them as independent users or ordinary consumers.