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December 8, 2022

Digital influencers and advertising in the Metaverse and social media

When Facebook CEO and one of the planet’s wealthiest, Mark Zuckerberg, changed his company’s name to Meta in October 2021, he simultaneously introduced “metaverse” into popular use. The term was first coined by writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 work of fiction Snow Crash to describe a parallel universe. With the advance of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, the modern metaverse is now described as a shared virtual space in which people interact with one another, albeit at a physical distance, through “avatars” (digital characters who may or may not resemblance the appearance or personality of their users).

Companies large and small have quickly noted the potential for greater interaction among consumers, content creators and brands. As an example, Nike and Vans have created virtual reality spaces in platforms such as Roblox[1] on which users can learn new skateboard tricks or practice other sports while socializing, dressing their avatars in branded clothing and accessories, and even purchasing items for real and digital use (the latter known as “phygitals“, a combination of the terms physical and digital).

Besides fashion, the entertainment industry has also noticed the unique opportunities offered by metaverse as a new prospect for monetization of content (Travis Scott and Ariana Grande’s live shows come to mind)[2]. Unprecedented experiences await in other fields, such as at theme parks and movie theaters.

In Brazil, several fashion, cosmetics, sports and entertainment brands (among others) have harnessed the metaverse to maximize return on their intellectual property assets, while creating experiences and connecting with their consumer audience. Examples include Reserva’s phygitals[3], the sticker-style NFT collection based on player images (specifically, Clube de Regatas do Flamengo[4] and the NFT5 format of the Rio Marathon award), as well as the virtual world of Rock in Rio “Rock In Verse”[5] created on the Fortnite platform, in which avatars dance to virtual tracks while enjoying music exclusively created for the event.

As yet another means of interaction among users, the metaverse provides content creators and digital (or virtual) influencers with a new form of engagement with their followers. Digital influencers exercise massive influence on social media over fashion and culture, while shaping worldwide consumer behavior. In Brazil, several celebrities are already occupying such space. Take Sabrina Sato and influencer Bianca Rosa who are leading the new medium through the monetization of their own digital personae – Satiko and Pink, respectively[6] – in endorsement and promotion of several brands.

With avatars serving as personality extensions of their users (whether digital influencers, celebrities or otherwise), concerns have arisen about the compliance of virtual influencer-generated content and commercial message in the metaverse or social media platforms.

Advertising self-regulatory bodies throughout the world have addressed the phenomenon of influencer marketing in the age of social media by regulating influencers and brands commercial content, particularly on issues of transparency and adequate disclosure to consumers of commercial relationship between influencer and brands[7].

In Brazil, the National Council for Advertising Self-Regulation (CONAR) has issued guidelines for brands, agencies and influencers on compliance of influencer commercial content offered on social media by digital influencers and a number of golden rules should be considered – proper disclosure of commercial relation with brands, commercial content should be easily recognizable by children in contrast with the non-commercial content generated by the influencer, and truthfulness on testimonial describing products or services experience.

As virtual influencers promote commercial content in metaverse platforms and social media accounts an even more sensible approach to these rules must be taken by agencies, brands and influencers especially as it relates to avatars´ statements on personal experiences with products or services which may not meet the truthfulness requirements of CONAR´s and consumer protection legislation. For instance, an avatar who praises the incredible taste of a new ice cream flavor or chocolate bar it has not effectively tasted may not meet testimonial requisites. Thus, it is highly advisable that all virtual influencers´ commercial speech be reviewed in light of consumer protection rules and regulations.

 

[1] <NIKELAND – Roblox> and <Vans World (roblox.com)>

[2] <Introducing Fortnite Event and Travis Scott: Astronomical (epicgames.com)> and <Rift Tour | A Musical Experience Unlike Any Other – Fortnite (epicgames.com)>

[3] <Reserve X (@usereservax) – Instagram photos and videos>

[4] <Flamengo enters the world of NFT games and launches collectible cards (lance.com.br)>

5 <Rio Marathon is world’s first major running event to turn medals into NFTs – Época Negócios | Future of Money (globo.com)>

[5] <🎸 Rock In Verse 🎸 1795-5503-2935 By Herobase – Fortnite (epicgames.com)>

[6] <Sabrina Sato (@sabrinasato) – Instagram photos and videos>; <SATIKO (@iamsatiko_) – Instagram photos and videos>; <BIANCA (@bianca) – Instagram photos and videos> and <P I N K (@iampink) – Instagram photos and videos>

[7] Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers (ftc.gov) and Social media endorsements: being transparent with your followers – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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