NY AG Assesses Fine for Having Radio Personalities Endorse Products They Do Not Use

Influencers, broadcast personalities, and celebrities endorsing products must be careful in New York. Recently, NY Attorney General Letitia James issued a consent decree with Google and iHeart for having radio personalities endorse a product that they did not use. In a recent press release the NY Attorney General’s office stated:

“Google and iHeartMedia paid influencers to promote products they never used, showing a blatant disrespect for truth-in-advertising rules,’ said Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine. ‘The FTC will not stop working with our partners in the states to crack down on deceptive ads and ensure firms that break the rules pay a price.’

In 2019, Google partnered with iHeartMedia and other local radio stations to run an ad campaign for the Google Pixel 4. In these ads, Google required radio personalities to describe their personal experiences using the Pixel 4, despite the phone not yet being available for sale. Google refused to provide the phones to any stations in advance of recording and airing the ads, so the radio personalities’ statements about their experiences using the phone could not be true.”  

The message is clear. If you are going to pay anyone to endorse a product, and claim they have used that product, make sure they have actually used the product. The key to liability here seems to be the statement by the radio personalities that they used the product when they allegedly did not. According to the NY AG, one spot said:

“The only thing I love more than taking the perfect photo? Taking the perfect photo at night. With Google Pixel 4 both are a cinch. It’s my favorite phone camera out there, especially in low light, thanks to Night Sight Mode. 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.”

If the radio personalities did not claim they used the product, then it is unlikely there would have been liability. In other words, be careful with the wording of your endorsements and “live reads.” Do not claim your radio hosts used a product when they have not.

The issue does show that both the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s office plan on policing celebrity endorsements used in advertising. So be careful.

You can see the NY Attorney Generals’ statement here.