Google sued over deceptive radio ads for the Pixel 4

Google sued over deceptive radio ads for the Pixel 4
With the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro already on store shelves, it seems strange to hear that the state of Texas is suing Google over radio ads that were used in 2019 and 2020 to promote the Pixel 4. The suit was filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who alleged in a petition filed with the District Court of Montgomery County that Google "engaged in false,
misleading, and deceptive acts and practices" when it had radio DJs record commercials for the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

The petition notes that "Google hired media companies, including iHeartMedia, to record and broadcast advertisements in the Dallas-Fort Worth ("DFW") and Houston, Texas markets, promoting the Pixel 4, a smartphone sold by Google." The document goes on to explain that Google demanded that radio personalities recording these ads give a first-hand review of the handset.

Google wanted radio personalities to lie about their experience with the Pixel 4 series

However, Google knew that the Pixel 4 series had not yet been released meaning that the personal experiences relayed by the DJs had to be made up. Even iHeartMedia realized that Google was misleading the public and asked the company to give each of its radio personalities recording the commercials a Pixel 4 device. Google refused and demanded that the stations play the deceptive versions of the ads.

The scripts provided to the DJs by Apple focused on the Pixel 4 series' camera features including Night Sight. The latter allows users to take photos in low-light conditions without using a flash.

The scripts, according to the petition, included typical dialogue like this:

"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 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?

Pixel 4 is more than just great pics. It’s also great at helping me get stuff done,
thanks to the new voice-activated Google Assistant that can handle multiple tasks
at once.

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."

Any change from the script had to be approved by Google or its agent. In October 2019, Google's media buying agent approved changes in certain parts of the script in order to "customize" them to match what was relevant in the life of each radio personalitiy. So iHeartMedia told their DJs that Google was "very strict on saying the script

Despite leaking the Pixel 4 months earlier, Google refused to hand over samples of the device to voice talent

Days before the Pixel 4 line was to be released, iHeartMedia said that it was receiving negative comments "regarding the personal endorsement of a product that had never been seen, touched, or used by the endorser." And that led an employee of the media company to write to Google's media buying agent. In that letter, the company again requested Pixel 4 units for the voicing talent.

Citing the fact that the phone had yet to be shipped, Google refused. And so eight iHeartMedia personalities recorded ads for the Pixel 4 line which ran 2,405 times between October 28, 2019, and December 2, 2019. At the time the ads were recorded, none of the eight radio personalities owned a Pixel 4 and, as the petition noted, they "had not taken photographs at night with the Pixel 4 and had not used the Pixel 4’s features for the variety of personal, social, and familial events that the advertisements represented. The Pixel 4 was not released until October 24, 2019. iHeartMedia began recording the Pixel 4 advertisements the week of October 21, 2019."

The Texas ad campaign for the Pixel 4 series ended in December 2019. In late January 2020, Google hired iHeartMedia to record and air ads for the Pixel 4 line in five U.S. markets outside of Texas. The media company again requested sample Pixel 4 units for the voice talent, and again was shot down by Google. Eventually, Google provided the DJs with five used Pixel 4 handsets.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and if found guilty of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, Google could be fined $10,000 for each of the 2,405 times the ad played in Texas. That means that Google could be on the hook for $24 million.

Here's an interesting note. You might recall that Google itself released pictures of the Pixel 4 and some of its features close to three months before the phone was released. Why then couldn't it give samples to iHeartMedia's jocks? Did it already know what a disappointment the phone would be?

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