California Attorney General Rob Bonta, in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission and other state attorney’s general, announced against Google and iHeartMedia resolving allegations that Google paid DJs, predominately at iHeartMedia, to offer misleading personal endorsements of the Google Pixel 4 cell phone, even though most had never used the phone.
This conduct violated California’s False Advertising law and Unfair Competition Law. As part of the settlement, Google will pay $9 million, of which California will receive approximately $2.7 million, and iHeartMedia will pay $400,000, of which California will receive approximately $125,000. Both companies will also be required to comply with important injunctive terms to deter future misconduct.
“Goole tried to take shortcuts in advertising its products, and now it’s paying the price,” said Attorney General Bonta. “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.”
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 instructed radio personalities to describe their supposed personal experiences using the Pixel 4, despite the phone not yet being available, and despite Google refusing to provide the phones to any stations in advance of recording and airing the first-round ads.
Therefore, the radio personalities’ statements about their personal experience were generally untrue. Google ran these 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 addition to monetary penalties, Google and iHeartMedia will comply with injunctive terms to deter future misconduct. Google, specifically, will be subject to a 20-year injunction prohibiting it from making misrepresentations or encouraging misrepresentations when hiring endorsers to advertise its products. Google will also be required to submit compliance upon request and engage in robust record keeping to demonstrate full compliance with the settlement agreement.
Attorney General Bonta joins the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York in the settlement against Google. Texas also joined the group settlement against iHeartMedia.