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Advertising in the Metaverse: Warning for Brands Pitching at Kids

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Advertising efforts pitched at kids in the metaverse is drawing the attention of U.S. organization CARU (Children’s Advertising Review Unit). The organization has issued new compliance warnings to brands trying to infiltrate virtual spaces where kids are playing.

Mamie Kresses is the vice president of CARU. “Our warning puts advertisers, brands, influencers and endorsers, developers, and others on notice that CARU’s Ad Guidelines apply to ads in the metaverse and that CARU will strictly enforce its guidelines against metaverse advertising.”

Advertising in the Metaverse: Warning for Brands Pitching at Kids

Advertising mixed with game play

CARU say their guidelines prohibit advertisers from blurring ads and non-advertising content directed to children in the metaverse.

“The blurring of advertising and non-advertising content directed to children is not new, but the sophisticated and varied ways in which blurring can occur in metaverse spaces are a special concern and focus for CARU. Today, ads can be seamlessly woven into interactive gaming, entertainment, and educational content, along with the blending of influencer marketing and user-generated content, across increasingly connected spaces.”

The group goes on to say that advertisements must be easily identifiable as advertisements. They call on advertisers to take extra care to be transparent in digital environments, “with an eye to the special vulnerabilities of children, to prevent misleading, deceptive, or inappropriate advertising to them.”

Advertising in the Metaverse: Warning for Brands Pitching at Kids

Advertiser techniques

CARU suggest commonsense design techniques to let kids know that what they are seeing are ads. For example, use identifiable “text size and color, positioning, and other visual or contextual cues, such as the borders around or background shadings of ads, which can substantially increase the likelihood that children will recognize an ad as an ad.”

CARU also called out advertisers for practices they call “dark patterns” – manipulative tactics to trick kids into viewing ads or agreeing to buy things.

“As brands increasingly create sponsored worlds in the metaverse, it is imperative that these spaces, often designed as advergames, conspicuously disclose to children in language they can understand that this is advertising. In addition, many metaverse worlds, whether brand-sponsored or independently operated, feature advertising that is woven into the theme and content of the game and is not likely to be easily identifiable to children as advertising.”

Advertising to kids and the law

CARU however, does not have the full strength of the law behind it, but does however seek the voluntary cooperation of brands. Those that breach agreements can be referred to an appropriate federal regulatory body, like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Kresses says these are the things brands need to be careful of.

-Avoid blurring advertising and normal content

In the metaverse, ads can be seamlessly woven into educational content, interactive gaming, and entertainment. Ads must be identified.

-Influencer advertising must be disclosed

In the metaverse, influencers use avatars to interact with kids to promote brands. The kids need to know that there is a material relationship between the influencer and advertiser.

-Manipulative tactics are not allowed

Weaving ad content into children’s content is manipulative and is not allowed. Putting social or emotional pressure on children goes against CARU guidelines.

-Disclosures about advertising must be obvious

Brands cannot use manipulation, blurring, and other deceptive ad techniques. Ads need to be clear and tailored to kids’ level of language skills.

With the Metaverse set to become a bigger part of all of our lives, now is a good time to lay the groundwork for keeping kids safe. Or, kids could always enjoy life at the highest resolution possible by going outside. Ew! Fancy that.