Opinion: A brands existence is not advertising - Youth Advertising in the Metaverse
Roblox. The name of an online video game loved by youth and teens should ring a bell if you're in the world of advertising and marketing. But, in case you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, Roblox is an internet gaming platform that allows players to construct their own virtual worlds as well as play a broad range of user-created games.
Currently, Roblox has 66.1 million daily active users and over 214 million monthly active users with the U.S. and Canada having the second-biggest share of Roblox Daily Active Users (DAUs) accounting for 14.3 million daily active users.
Best of all - Roblox is a free to play ad-supported gaming platform that enables brands to reach and engage Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha users through static billboard ad placements, video billboard ad placements, 3D character placements, and brand themed Roblox worlds; or ‘experiences’ as Roblox like’s to call them.
And here lies the debate: are branded experiences within Roblox ads?
The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), a division of self-regulatory business organization BBB National Programs thinks so. According to CARU: ‘All branded executions should be labeled as ads’.
Which means that companies who had previously created branded experiences within Roblox, and failed to disclose to young users that these branded experiences were ads, were in violation.
But Roblox stands firm that branded virtual worlds on its platform are not the same as advertising, and that a brand’s simple existence in the real world or in the metaverse is also not advertising.
And this is where I agree.
Frankly, from the moment our eyes open to when they close we are surrounded by the existence of the brands we love and trust. From the LG sign on my TV, to the Hyundai badge on my car, to the big GO train symbol on my ride to work. Brands are everywhere and their mere existence in our lives does not constitute an advertisement.
As an example of a real-world branded experience, riding the Go is a different experience than riding the TTC. Both have their pros and cons and both proudly put their badges on all surfaces. So, are these branded commuter experiences ads?
I don’t think so.
The same way I wouldn’t think that going into Nike world in Roblox would be an ad. To me, this would just be a unique Nike experience that is completely different from any other on the Roblox platform.
I completely understand what CARU is trying to do here, and they mean well, but it’s a slippery slope. Because by defining in-game experiences created by brands as ads then what’s to stop them from going after the Rogers Centre and asking them to remove their logo from the building. Rogers works hard to pay for all stadium updates so that attendees can have an amazing baseball experience. But hey, that could constitute as advertising to kids on Jr. Jays Sunday by CARU’s definition.
I think we all need to be vigilant about advertising that goes out to children. That is not up for debate.
But what is up for debate, is how we define what is an ad and what it isn't an ad.
At AGN we are building static, and video display ads along with 3D character ad units in Roblox and have no problem slapping an ‘ad’ label on it. Because we know it’s an ad. But is our AGN world inside Roblox and ad? Or just our spin on the amazing sites and wonders you can find in our awesome and diverse city of Toronto?
Learn more about our in-game advertising capabilities in Roblox and join the debate with us on social media.
Carlos Guevara is the Marketing Director at APEX Mobile Media and previous host of the podcast "In Search of Good Data." He has also helped various organizations in the private and non-profit sector to become more customer-centric with the use of enriched data and modern marketing and advertising technology and strategies.