In recent months, the metaverse has become an increasingly popular buzzword. Companies are building metaverse platforms and exploring unique ways to engage consumers in this new digital landscape. Influencer marketing will likely remain an important tactic for increasing engagement within the metaverse.
An important precursor to full immersion in this space is the gradual rise of virtual influencers – real-life characters created and operated by CGI artists and digital (and sometimes AI) agencies. The best known example is P’tite Miquela, although there are many other examples.
Some brands adopt virtual influencers. They can have as strong an audience as real human influencers, with much less risk and expense. After all, virtual influencers do not need to travel across the country, put them in hotels, feed them, or receive daily allowances.
However, brands and agencies still need to be careful. They need to understand the legal issues that arise during human and virtual impact campaigns in the metaverse.
In addition to sponsored posts, virtual influencers often create organic social content for themselves. As such, some have created characters that are more dangerous than others. As with human influencers, companies considering working with virtual influencers should carefully check their past activity on social media. In addition, companies should check past mentions of a virtual influencer, and ensure that there are no image distorting materials.
Furthermore, if virtual influencer behavior is easier to manage than human behavior, it is still wise to include an ethical clause in virtual influencer contracts. This allows the company to terminate the business if the virtual influencer engages in unexpected behavior that could damage its reputation.
As brands delve deeper into the metaverse, the prevalence of virtual influencers is likely to increase. Some brands may create custom virtual influencers. When considering this strategy, communications professionals should consider how virtual influencers can organically accumulate enough followers to benefit the brand significantly.
Some companies claim to sell “followers” to social media accounts. However, be aware that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and many state regulators have shut down a lot of this activity in recent years.
For example, in a high-profile case against Devumi, LLC, regulators prevented the company from creating and selling thousands of fake accounts to influencers. Influencers have used them to fraudulently inflate their followers, view count, and other engagement metrics.
The driving force behind all influencer marketing regulations is the principle that influencers must disclose when they have a physical association with the brands they are promoting. For example, influencers are required to disclose this information through clear and understandable disclosures, such as #advertising or #sponsorship. Effective disclosure will continue to be a specific requirement for influencers, human or virtual, who create content on behalf of brands within the metaverse platforms.
Brands should also be transparent about disclosing that the influencer is not a real person. For years, Lil Miquela has been posting as a real person.
Today, it is common for virtual influencers to prominently identify themselves as bots or artificial creations. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has not issued guidance on this issue, but it appears to be a safe bet that regulators expect virtual influencers to reveal that they are not real people. This information can influence consumers’ perceptions or conclusions about the influencer’s recommendations.
Since a robot can’t taste, how reliable is its opinion of the taste of Brand X’s new snack product? Would this message be misleading? For this reason, it is recommended that virtual influencers not only disclose their physical connection to the brand, but also that they are not real people.
Until new influencer marketing regulations specifically focused on the Metaverse emerge, brands must continue to recognize and apply existing marketing regulations to the Metaverse.
Alison Fitzpatrick Partner in the Marketing and Advertising Practice Group and Samantha Rothaus Partner in the advertising and marketing practice group at Davis + Gilbert