Brand collaborations are nothing new. But collabs between brands that have both been on TINA.org’s radar are becoming something of a trend.
Here are a few examples of when TINA.org investigations collide, starting with the one that inspired this post.
BMW and Lil Miquela: The “person” behind the wheel in this ad for BMW’s new iX2 is actually not a person at all but rather Lil Miquela, a virtual influencer with a combined TikTok and Instagram following of 6.2 million. In June 2020, TINA.org submitted a comment to the FTC concerning the use of these virtual beings by brands on social media. Among other things, TINA.org warned that the most realistic-looking virtual influencers, like Lil Miquela, can be confused with real people when promoting products, unless ads are required to adequately disclose that they are not human. A YouTube user’s comment on the BMW ad supports our position, stating, “It’s scary that nowadays we almost can’t differentiate what’s real to what’s computer made. I didn’t [know] who Lil Miquela was so at the beginning when I saw her I thought she was a real person.” As for BMW, TINA.org filed a complaint against the automaker with the FTC earlier this month over deceptive claims that its X models are made in the USA.
Roblox and Walmart: Another company whose deceptive made in the USA claims have been the subject of a TINA.org investigation is Walmart. But earlier this year, TINA.org found the retailer misleading consumers in a different way. Last fall, Walmart launched two kid-friendly experiences, Walmart Land and Walmart Universe of Play, on the mega popular online gaming and creation platform Roblox. The retailer’s first foray into the metaverse came only a few months after TINA.org had filed a complaint with the FTC regarding deceptive stealth advertising on Roblox in the form of undisclosed advergames aimed at children. TINA.org found the same issues with Walmart’s games. And after calling on a children’s advertising watchdog that had granted Walmart use of its “COPPA Safe Harbor” seal to immediately audit Walmart Universe of Play, Walmart quietly removed the game from Roblox. In September, Walmart launched a new experience on Roblox called Walmart Discovered.
Ryan ToysReview and Step2: In 2019, TINA.org investigated one of the most-viewed and most-profitable YouTube channels of all-time, Ryan ToysReview. TINA.org found that the channel, led by “kidfluencer” Ryan (whose parents launched the account in 2015 when Ryan was only three years old) and featuring toy reviews “for kids by a kid,” was deceiving millions of young children on a daily basis by blurring the distinction between advertising and organic content. The channel had a long list of corporate sponsors and peddled a number of products to a target audience of preschoolers incapable of even grasping the concept of advertising. One of those corporate sponsors was Step2. In 2017, TINA.org sent Step2 a warning letter regarding the company’s deceptive made in the USA claims (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Advertised products included two toys – a sand table and a play kitchen – that Ryan would promote on YouTube two years later. In response to TINA.org’s letter, Step2 said it had suspended all marketing and social media related to its made in the USA campaign. Ryan ToysReview (now known as Ryan’s World) also appeared to turn over a new leaf after TINA.org filed a complaint with the FTC, seeming to focus somewhat less on sponsored content.
Youngevity and BlackOxygen Organics: In February 2022, Youngevity International, a California-based, publicly-traded MLM that TINA.org has found using false health claims to market products and deceptive income claims to promote the business opportunity, sent an email to former distributors of BlackOxygen Organics. BOO, as the MLM was known, had gone out of business the previous fall as the FDA was pursuing a recall of its fulvic acid powder and tablets after the agency found the products contained elevated levels of lead and arsenic. (It was around that time that TINA.org published an ad alert on BOO’s unproven and potentially dangerous claims that its supplements alleviate the symptoms of long-haul COVID.) The email, titled “a warm hello from all of us here at Youngevity,” explained that the “executive team” at BOO had reached out to Youngevity about a proposal to “assist” with its displaced distributors. In addition to the opportunity to claw back commissions owed by their previous company, Youngevity offered former BOO distributors the chance to sell a new skincare product called Midnight Minerals. In private Facebook groups, BOO-turned-Youngevity distributors said Midnight Minerals was “the same thing” as BOO, that is, the company’s purported “magic dirt” that the FDA had found contained elevated levels of toxic heavy metals.