MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KRON) — iHeartMedia radio DJs told listeners about how much they loved using their new Google Pixel 4 to photograph rare spotted owls and meteor showers. But the DJs never actually used nor owned the phone.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the Federal Trade Commission took issue with Google and iHeartMedia’s advertising campaign for misleading consumers with fake endorsements made by influencers.
Google ran the ads over 23,000 times in 10 different markets, including more than 9,000 times in the San Francisco and Los Angeles media markets in 2019 and 2020.
iHeartRadio representatives voiced concerns to Google before and after the ads were launched.
“Our influencers really need to have devices to truly make the creative sound authentic and personal and to understand firsthand what makes Pixel different. I know we discussed this in the past. Is there a way for us to get devices for the talent in advance of the campaign? We think this is essential,” a radio rep told Google, according to a lawsuit filed by Bonta in Alameda County.
But Google refused to provide DJs with Google Pixel 4 smartphones. A Google employee replied that Google would “not be able to provide devices at this time,” according to the lawsuit.
Radio personalities and influencers ultimately went ahead and recorded advertisements by reading from scripts written by Google.
One script for DJs read, “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. Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right? I can read up on the latest health fads, ask for directions to the nearest goat yoga class (yes, that’s a thing) and text the location to mom hands-free,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states, “These radio personalities did not own or possess a Pixel 4 and had not used a Pixel 4 to take pictures at night.”
The advertising campaign violated California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law, Bonta said. As part of a settlement announced Monday, Google will pay $9 million and iHeartMedia will pay $400,000 in penalties.
Both companies will also be required to comply with injunctive terms to deter future misconduct. Google will be subject to a 20-year injunction prohibiting it from making misrepresentations or encouraging misrepresentations when hiring endorsers to advertise its products.
“Google tried to take shortcuts in advertising its products, and now it’s paying the price,” Bonta said. “Asking DJs to share personal experiences about a product they had not used is misleading – and a violation of state consumer protection laws. As Attorney General, I won’t stand by when consumers spend their hard-earned money based on a lie.”
If you believe you have been the victim of misleading advertising or other consumer fraud, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Justice at oag.ca.gov/report