Sony and its ad agency have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges they deceived consumers with ads for the PlayStation Vita game console and in social media campaigns.
It is the first time the FTC has taken action against a Twitter promotion that failed to disclose the relationship between the Tweeters and the company or ad agency behind the promption.
Sony has agreed not to make any more claims about the "game changing" technology of its hand-held console, according to the FTC.
The commission said the ads ran in late 2011 and early 2012, and that as part of the settlement, Sony will give either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher to anyone who bought the console before June 1, 2012.
The FTC says Sony's claims that "the pocket-sized console would revolutionize gaming mobility by enabling consumers to play their PlayStation 3 games via 'remote play,' and that they could engage in 'cross platform' play by starting a game on a PS3 and then continuing it on the go, right where they left off, on a PS Vita" were all misleading.
The FTC said the "cross-saving" feature of the game was only available on a few games, and the "pause-and-save" feature varied "significantly" from game to game.
In a separate action, it also charged that Sony ad agency Deutsch LA knew, or should have known, that the ads contained misleading claims, and that it also misled consumers with a Twitter campaign in which employees were told to create buzz about the product using their personal Twitter accounts, but not told to disclose their connection to the ad agency or Sony.
In a press conference after the announcement, FTC Western Region Director Tom Dahdouh confirmed that the issue of stealth Twitter campaigns was one that it is safe to say continues to have the FTC's attention, which will only grow with the growth of social media, especially around gaming, he said.
Asked to put a value on the settlement, he said he thought there were probably hundreds of thousands sold and said the math suggested (at $25 per) it would be in the millions.
The order prohibits both Sony and Deutsch LA “from making similar misrepresentations in the future when promoting the features or capabilities of handheld gaming consoles. The proposed order against Deutsch LA also bars it from misrepresenting that an endorser of any game console product or video game product is an independent user or ordinary consumer of the product. In addition, the proposed order requires Deutsch LA to disclose a material connection, where one exists, between any endorser of a game console product or video game product and Deutsch LA or other entity involved in the manufacture or marketing of the product.”