Avoid Metaverst Chaos: Regulating Virtual Influencers as Almost Humans

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In recent months, the meta-verse has become an increasingly popular buzzword. Companies are building metaverse platforms and exploring unique ways to engage consumers in these new digital landscapes. Influencer marketing is likely to remain an important tactic to increase engagement with the meta-verse.

An important precursor to full immersion in this space is the gradual rise of virtual influencers – realistic characters that CGI artists, digital agencies (and sometimes even artificial intelligence) create and manage. The best known example is P’tite Miquela, although there are several others.

Some brands embrace virtual influencers. They can have as strong an audience as real human influencers, while having much lower risk and cost. After all, virtual influencers do not have to fly across the country, place them in hotels, feed them or receive unemployment benefits.


But brands and agencies still need to be careful. They need to understand the legal issues that arise during human and virtual influence campaigns in the metaverse.

Moral clauses

In addition to sponsored posts, virtual influencers often create organic social content for themselves. As such, some have established more risky personalities than others. As with human influencers, companies considering working with virtual influencers should carefully check their past social media activity. In addition, companies should check previous mentions of the virtual influencer and make sure there is no material that tarnishes images.

Moreover, if it is easier to control the behavior of a virtual influencer than a human’s, it is still wise to include a moral clause in the contracts for virtual influencers. This allows the company to quit if the virtual influencer engages in unexpected behaviors that could damage their reputation.

Social engagement

As brands move deeper into the metaverse, the prevalence of virtual influencers is likely to increase. Some brands can create dedicated virtual influencers. When considering this strategy, communications professionals should consider how virtual influencers will organically accumulate enough followers to benefit the brand significantly.

Some companies claim to sell “followers” to social media accounts. Be aware, however, that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several state regulators have shut down much of this activity in recent years.

For example, in a high-profile case against Devumi, LLC, regulators stopped the company from setting up thousands of fake accounts and selling them to influencers. Influencers have used them to fraudulently inflate their followers, number of impressions and other engagement polls.

Information

The driving force behind all influencer marketing regulation is the principle that influencers must disclose when they have a significant connection to the brands they promote. For example, influencers are required to pass on this information through clear and understandable disclosures, such as #ad or #sponsored. Effective disclosures will continue to be a crucial requirement for influencers, human or virtual, who create content on behalf of brands within metaverse platforms.

Transparency

Brands should also consider transparency around revealing that the influencer is not a real person. For years, Li’l Miquela has been writing like a real person.

Today, it is common for virtual influencers to prominently identify themselves as robots or artificial creations. The FTC has not issued guidance on this issue, but it seems like a safe bet that regulators expect virtual influencers to reveal that they are not real people. Such information may influence consumer perceptions or conclusions about influencer recommendations.

Since a robot can not taste, how reliable is its opinion about the taste of Brand X’s new snack product? Would such a message not be misleading? For this reason, it is recommended that virtual influencers not only reveal their material connection to a fire, but also that they are not real people.

Conclusion

Until new rules for influencer marketing emerge that focus specifically on Metaverse, brands should continue to be aware of and apply current marketing rules to Metaverse.

Allison Fitzpatrick is a partner in the Advertising + Marketing Practice Group and Samantha Rothaus is a partner in the practice group Advertising + Marketing at Davis + Gilbert

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