Massachusetts today sued Google and iHeartMedia over 2019 ads on Boston radio stations by DJs and other on-air talent gushing about all the cool things they were able to do with their new Pixel 4 phones even though they didn't actually have the phones.
The suit, filed by the state Attorney General's office in Suffolk Superior Court, says the promotions violated the state consumer-protection law because they were "false and misleading" advertisements.
In its complaint, the state included a copy of one of the scripts at least nine Boston-area DJs and on-air talent - five of them specifically on iHeartMedia stations - were paid to read and even tailor to reflect their actual lives:
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?
Right, the state agrees: It didn't happen.
Some personalized what they said they did with the Pixel 4 to better reflect their lifestyles and activities, thereby making the advertisements more realistic. However, the Boston Radio Personalities did not own or regularly use a Pixel 4 and had not used a Pixel 4 to take pictures at night.
The state alleges that iHeartMedia, at least, was aware of the incongruity involved, that before the promos were recorded, an iHeartMedia ad rep wrote his or her counterpart at the agency booking ads for Google:
We ... cannot require talent to use "I" in voiced spots when they have not physically used the product ... For this reason, we may receive spots from stations that adjust the tense slightly to remove the personalization of "I."
The suit says Google's media buying agent checked with Google and found it would be impossible to get actual Pixel 4 phones to the announcement readers because they were not yet on the shelves - and that getting them early models would take at least a week and Google did not want to delay the start of the campaign.
Rather than lose the ad money, the state alleges, iHeartMedia gave in and had its on-air talent record fully personalized I-blurbs for Boston and several other cities.
The state alleges these promotional messages aired 1,892 times in Massachusetts between October and December, 2019, including 1,294 times on iHeartMedia radio stations in the Boston market. The suit does not name the specific stations or on-air personalities.
If the case goes to trial, the state says it will seek penalties of $5,000 per violation plus costs and attorneys' fees.