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    Consumer groups want Walmart’s Roblox game audited for ‘stealth marketing’ to kids – todaybusinessupdates.com

    A number of consumer advocacy groups have taken issue with Walmart’s entry into the metaverse. The online retailer announced the launch of two new virtual worlds on Roblox last fall, Walmart country and Universe of Play, aimed at appealing to the next generation of shoppers. The experiences will allow Roblox users to play games featuring toys and popular children’s characters, earn virtual toys that drop from a blimp, complete challenges, and explore “toy worlds,” among other things. But the groups argue that Walmart is blurring the line between advertising and organic content, not doing a good job of disclosing that the content in these virtual worlds is essentially advertising and should be labeled as such.

    However, Walmart disputes these allegations, saying it complies with US child privacy laws.

    The groups, led by the advertising watchdog truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org), sent a letter to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) asking it to review Walmart’s Roblox games.

    CARU is part of the larger non-profit organization BBB National Programs, which oversees a dozen industry self-regulation programs in the US. , COPPA. That means participants who adhere to CARU guidelines are deemed to be in compliance with COPPA, which protects them from any FTC enforcement action.

    Simply put, being flagged as potentially non-compliant with the CARU program is not something a participant would want to happen, as it could put them on the radar of the FTC.

    In the letter, the advocacy groups write to CARU’s senior vice president Dona Fraser to warn the organization about Walmart’s Roblox experience, Universe of Play, alleging that the virtual world aimed at young children deceptively markets Walmart’s goods and services without properly revealing that the game itself, and the content it contains, are actually advertisements. In addition, the groups note that Walmart uses CARU’s COPPA Safe Harbor Program seal to convey the message that the game complies with the organization’s guidelines.

    The letter details several aspects of the Walmart Roblox experience that the groups say point to its nature as an “advergame.”

    This includes how the game is modeled after Walmart’s toy catalog and the use of popular toys and characters, such as LOL Surprise!, Jurassic World branded items, PAW Patrol, Magic Mixie, Razor scooters and others sold in Walmart stores and online. The game also encourages kids to “collect the most popular toys”, where the game only mentions that in the fine print “This is an ad.” Likewise, as kids walk around the island, they unlock gift boxes where, again, toys are displayed, but the message “this is an ad” appears in a barely visible font. These gift packs reveal top sellers in the toy category, such as a VTech smartwatch for kids, popular dolls, race cars and more.

    Other unremarkable ad reveals also appear in other areas of the game — such as signs of players’ avatars walking by as they collect coins, search for toy boxes, or engage in other virtual activities, the letter states.

    Image Credits: walmart

    Likewise, the groups object to Walmart Land, another Roblox virtual world that allows children to play as avatars and also markets Universe of Play.

    Both games have combined to attract more than 12 million visitors since launch, the letter said. Both games are also accessible to children of all ages, as the “Age Guidelines” for the games on Roblox are labeled “N/A”. The letter highlights that children under the age of 13 do not fully understand “the persuasive intent” of things like entertainment marketing.

    “Walmart’s brutal use of stealth marketing targeting young children who are developmentally incapable of recognizing the promotional content is not only appalling, it is deceptive and against truth-in-advertising laws,” said Laura Smith. , legal director of TINA.org, in a press release. “We urge CARU to take swift action to protect the millions of children who are manipulated by Walmart every day,” she added.

    In addition to TINA.org, groups that signed the letter include Fairplay, the Center for Digital Democracy, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. They ask CARU to monitor Walmart’s games for compliance.

    However, Walmart, when reached for comment, claims that this had already taken place.

    In a statement shared with todaybusinessupdates.com, the retailer said:

    In December 2022, Walmart was approved to participate in CARU’s COPPA Safe Harbor program after demonstrating that Universe of Play, a new immersive Roblox experience, meets the stringent requirements of COPPA and CARU’s guidelines.

    Due to its younger user base, Roblox has already caught the attention of other companies looking to market to kids, including Sanrio (Hello Kitty) and Mattel, which launched a He-Man game last year on the platform. Mattel also collaborated with Forever 21 on a 2021 Barbie inspired collection and Kellogg’s debuted “Froot Loops’ world.

    Outside of children’s brands, many other companies – such as H&MSpotify, Netflix, Samsung, Chipotle, Nike, Vansand Lake – to have focused Also the younger users of Roblox.

    To what extent Walmart may or may not need to adapt its Roblox games may set a precedent as more brands enter the gaming world and the metaverse and advertising industry define its practices for this new form of social networking.

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