Texas AG Sues Google over Misleading Endorsements

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

When a company uses an influencer or other person to endorse the company’s products, it’s important that endorsement reflects the endorser’s honest opinions, beliefs, or experiences with the products. Of course, in order for that to happen, the endorser must have actually used the products. This week, the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Google alleging that the company engaged people to provide endorsements for its Pixel 4 phone, even though they had never used it.

The AG alleges that Google engaged iHeartMedia DJs to promote the Pixel 4 on air before the phone had been released. According to the complaint, Google provided scripts for the ads, which included statements describing the DJ’s personal experiences with the phone, even though they had never used it. Although iHeartMedia allegedly expressed concerns about the scripts to Google, Google refused to make changes and insisted that the DJ’s record their “first-hand testimonials.”

The AG is seeking more than $1 million in damages and also has requested the court to grant injunctive relief that would bar Google from continuing to “create and broadcast advertisements which contain false endorsements and deceptive information.” Google hasn’t responded to the complaint yet, but a spokesperson said the complaint “appear to misrepresent what occurred here.”

While we wait to see what happens, keep mind that advertising on mediums like radio and podcasts presents some unique opportunities and challenges. For example, having a trusted DJ or podcaster read an ad can help add an air of credibility to the claims, but making claims in the first person, rather than the third person, will likely turn the ad into an endorsement. You also need to worry about what happens if the speaker goes off-script.

We’ll keep monitoring this case. In the meantime, check out our 2018 article on podcast advertising in which we previewed some of these issues.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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