The nonprofit watchdog group Truth In Advertising filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week accusing Roblox of “deceptive marketing,” saying it facilitated undisclosed advertising indistinguishable from its organic content to the platform’s predominantly young audience.
Roblox reports it has nearly 55 million daily users. The majority are under the age of 14, according to Statista.
“Virtual worlds like the Roblox metaverse are poised for an era of explosive growth, so now is the time for the FTC to ensure that the guardrails are in place to prevent deceptive marketing from becoming the norm,” Shana Mueller, director of communication for public policy and advocacy at Truth In Advertising, told SmartBrief.
The complaint urges an investigation by the FTC, stating, “Roblox has failed to establish any meaningful guardrails to ensure compliance with truth in advertising laws.”
The main allegations relevant to marketers are:
- Advergames: The complaint states that it’s impossible for younger audiences to tell the difference between organic games and those that are sponsored by brands, pointing to examples of Roblox experiences from brands such as Netflix, Nike, Hot Wheels and Vans.
- Undisclosed sponsored content: Hidden sponsored content is prevalent within organic games and the avatar shop, the complaint says, noting examples such as a NASCAR activation within the game Jailbreak and a Warner Bros. Scooby-Doo appearance within the game Adopt Me!
- Undisclosed virtual influencers: Avatar influencers, created both by humans and artificial intelligence, are used by brands within Roblox, sometimes interacting with users without disclosing their relationships with brands within the platform. The complaint also draws attention to the fact that influencers from Roblox’s Video Stars Program are not currently required to disclose their relationship to the company within the platform.
- Artificial inflation of “likes:” The complaint shows evidence that some brands and developers are rewarding Roblox users for “liking” games or content to enhance their popularity and become more visible via the platform’s algorithm.
What Truth in Advertising wants from Roblox
The complaint calls for clearer identification of advergames, sponsored content and human-created or AI-created influencers. Truth in Advertising is calling for Roblox to better enforce its policy of preventing children under 13 from viewing or interacting with such advertising and its ban on brands offering rewards for “likes.”
What it means for marketers
Video games are increasingly touted as the next major advertising opportunity, as seen by the inaugural PlayFronts hosted earlier this month by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Brands have been relatively hesitant so far to make major investments due to brand safety and ad delivery issues, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Roblox complaint suggests marketers need to tread carefully when experimenting in the metaverse, particularly on platforms with minors.
“[Marketers] have to follow the same rules in the virtual space that they must currently observe in the real one – clearly and conspicuously disclosing advertising materials to consumers,” Mueller noted.
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