Virtual Protest on Roblox: How Brands Can Play Ethically on the Platform

Global platform Roblox recently made headlines when young people in Malaysia took to the platform to virtually protest in support of Palestine. Many users, in particular, carried Malaysian and Palestinian flags in virtual solidarity, and videos of the protest circulated on social media. It was reported that participants could choose between raising the Malaysian or Palestinian flag, or not raising it at all.

The virtual protest was visited more than 275,000 times worldwide, according to CNBC, although Roblox noted that the count could include multiple visits from the same person. Indeed, over the past few years, Roblox has become more than just a place to play and have fun.

The Roblox platform is currently known as one of the best online games and entertainment platforms for the audience under the age of 18. In fact, according to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the BBB National Programs, an advertising watchdog organization in the United States, users on the platform are between the ages of nine and 12.

This is probably why brands like H&M, Gucci and Hyundai Motor have found a home on the platform. Just this year, Barbie and Forever 21 teamed up to launch their virtual Forever Barbie collection, which includes 76 accessories, clothing and bags, as well as a Hasbro children’s exhibit. My little pony creation of new metaverse game on the site, Visit Maritime Bay to celebrate the release of new episodes My Little Pony: Leave Your Mark on Netflix.

However, along with its growing popularity, Roblox has also come under the spotlight for violating its advertising guidelines for children under 13 years of age. Roblox has attracted CARU’s attention due to its regular monitoring of content aimed at children. CARU found that Roblox did not adequately communicate to children whether advertising present in Roblox “experiences” and content integrated into videos constituted advertising. Right now, Roblox has set new advertising standards for its platform that no longer allow advertising to children under 13 years of age.

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According to industry experts MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to, brands need to approach advertising on this platform with care and collaboration to comply with best practices and regulations, rather than with a complete ban or boycott, according to Werner Juksch, senior vice president of social issues. , APAC Media.Monks.

“Brands and agencies need to be held accountable. The existence of risks should not be a deterrent in this case because Roblox is certainly interested in ensuring the safety of the brand and audience,” he said, referring to Roblox’s new advertising rules regarding minors. He added that it’s not really a mystery how brands can advertise on platforms like Roblox from an ethical standpoint.

“Communications plans and creative approaches are developed and implemented by adults who must be responsible and know what they are doing – there is no substitute for taking responsibility,” he said, adding:

Any marketing partner worth its salt will also keep an eye on what’s going on and implement a crisis protocol with clear escalation plans to ensure the brand is protected, just like any social media account.

Companies that take responsibility will work with the platform and other experienced partners when conducting communications in environments that contain underage audiences, he explained. There are also many rules regarding this type of advertising, which are not there to limit creativity or business, but to guide companies on how to do it correctly.

That being said, brands still like to play with a lot of gray lines. Ranganathan Somanathan, co-founder and curator of RSquared Global Ventures, noted that while there are clear guidelines on what can and cannot be said in advertising aimed at children, there are no rules that prevent brands from connecting with younger audiences.

Many global brands are actively self-regulating in markets where guidelines are vague and tend to operate under stricter regulations.

He added that as long as the advertisements do not promote harmful content or products, create unrealistic impressions, provoke their intrusiveness or widely exploit their vulnerabilities, it is in fact okay for them to advertise to children. This is something that brands tend to continue to use.

How brands can advertise ethically

Despite these gray areas, there are many opportunities for brands to take advantage of the benefits of Roblox while remaining ethical. After all, according to McKinsey, the virtual goods economy accounts for more than 40% of global gaming revenue generated by billions of gamers around the world. It also states that sales of virtual goods directly to avatars already constitute a US$54 billion market.

Tong Kai Xuan, chief operating officer of GosuGamers, said advertisements can be educational, informative, meaningful and entertaining, which can have a positive impact on a child’s development. “To achieve this, it is critical that brands advertising on platforms like Roblox be socially responsible and truthful in their promotions,” she said.

Rather than over-sensationalize or over-sell products to attract this young audience, brands should opt for creative, interactive and family-friendly approaches, as parents tend to still be the key decision makers.

She added that in this digital age, children are constantly surrounded by advertising, so it is inevitable that they will be exposed to negative advertising from time to time.

“Protecting children from unwanted advertising is a shared responsibility of advertisers, media owners, authorities and parents,” she said, adding that only through regulation, transparency and accessible feedback systems can we effectively manage advertising aimed at the younger generation.

Knowledge of various regional regulations

In addition to avoiding over-sensationalization and overselling, marketers need in-depth and localized knowledge of the rules of advertising to children. These recommendations can often vary by region. In fact, brands should develop their own set of guidelines to stay true to their brand values ​​and remain ethical, suggested Robert Gaxiola, head of creative for Southeast Asia and India at Ampverse.

“Just choose the bad: sugar, saturated fat, meat, caffeinated soft drinks. What may be appropriate in one market is a cultural disaster in another,” Gaxiola said. “At the end of the day, the market has the final say, so it’s best to look at the local situation first or do proper research beforehand.”

Adding to his point, Edwin Yeo, general manager of Strategic Public Relations Group, noted that there are many different rules and that marketers need to learn about them.

The Federal Trade Commission, for example, has a particular focus on deceptive and unfair practices, and the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has developed a children’s food advertising code that essentially states that advertisers must comply with government food and nutrition policies. he said.

“You could argue whether such rules are sufficient, but they exist and, at a minimum, advertising platforms must comply with them,” he added.

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