The concept of the metaverse isn’t new. Even by the time sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson coined the term in 1992 to describe a 3D virtual space, the idea had been around for a few decades. It emerged in concepts as disparate as Nasa’s virtual reality headsets of the mid-1980s, and the Pokemon Go craze of the mid-2010s. Then, of course, there’s Fortnite. If you’re the parent of teen- or tweenagers, your offspring are probably more familiar with the metaverse than you are. They’re probably rolling their eyes as the advertising industry falls over itself to jump on the metaverse bandwagon.
Because 2021 was the year that the metaverse came to the attention of the advertising industry, thanks largely to Fortnite gigs that attracted audiences of millions of users and, of course, Facebook’s rebrand to Meta and focus on the metaverse. As 2022 gathers speed, it’s all we can talk about: 49% of marketers believe that the metaverse will shape their strategies in 2022.
The metaverse is an exciting and daunting prospect for many marketers wondering how to jump in without falling over. What should they consider?
Don’t be afraid to test and learn
Entering into the metaverse will be a steep learning curve for most of us. There are new technologies, new formats, new measurements, new tools and new relationships to navigate. But that isn’t a reason to delay having a go. The metaverse will have equal importance to the ‘real’ world in the future, so there is a huge opportunity for early movers. At this early stage, brands should focus on finding what works for them, rather than driving ROI – that will come.
Sign up to platforms and have a look around, talk to your kids (seriously – they’ll know a lot). Approach your media agency about low-risk ways to dip your toes in the water. This could be hosting a virtual event or adding value to a partner’s existing activation. Even posting a 360° video on YouTube is a good baby step into the metaverse. The key is to have a go and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s a wild west out there and there’s no shame in failing on a new frontier.
As you experiment in the metaverse, remember to think about your brand name and brand identity. Many brands are already trademarking theirs for the metaverse, as they do in the real world. You should also consider how you will use your brand name and branding. Will it be exactly the same as in the real world? Or will you experiment with two different versions of your brand identity – one for the real world and one for the metaverse?
The old truism still stands in the metaverse – always focus on the consumer
Advertising is seen by many – perhaps most – consumers as a necessary evil in order to access the content they want. The metaverse is the perfect opportunity for the advertising industry to reinvent itself as a player that brings value to be enjoyed, instead of disruption to be tolerated. The key is to focus on authentic and rewarding experiences. How can your brand enrich and enhance a user’s experience of the metaverse? People are people in the metaverse as well as in the real world. They care about status, causes, appearance, experiences and convenience. How can you help them to enhance one or more of these aspects?
Success will lie in participation, collaboration and understanding of the context; this means that advertising is likely to be closer to what we understand as brand activation and experience rather than display and video. Meanwhile, focusing on the consumer will lead to advertising that is timely, relevant and contextualized to their environment and mood. That in turn will drive the next level of contextual marketing, which is going to be so important in the post-cookie era.
The metaverse will blur the lines between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’
The metaverse will blur the lines between a person’s ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ lives, particularly as they spend more and more time there. AR and VR will further blur that line, creating experiences that bring the two worlds ever closer together. This will mean that many of the barriers that marketers face today won’t be relevant. The most creative brands will be the ones that succeed – as long as that creativity is always harnessed to enhanced and elevate the consumer experience.
There are plenty of brands that are already embracing that creativity and jumping in. Nike has filed for patents for virtual goods and the ability to build virtual retail environments to sell them in. It has also acquired RTKT, which creates virtual sneakers and collectables for the metaverse. Meanwhile, Roblox hosted the Gucci Garden, a virtual recreation of a real-world installation in Florence. Visitors to the garden could view, try on and purchase digital Gucci products to dress their avatars, and then walk through themed rooms. As they went through the garden, their avatars would absorb elements from each room. These are just a few examples: a quick Google search will provide many more case studies of successful metaverse activations.
The opportunities that the metaverse presents aren’t just consumer-facing. The richer experiences that it facilitates will generate richer data and more detailed insights into consumer behavior and desires. We as an industry will need to develop new, more sophisticated tools to fully understand those insights in order to be able to drive higher ROI.
Marketers also need to be aware that there are opportunities in the metaverse not just for advertisers, but more nefarious players too. As advertising dollars follow eyeballs, so bad actors follow ad dollars. Awareness of brand safety and ad fraud is as important in the metaverse as in any other digital environment.
Conclusion: new world, same rules
Research, experiment, focus on the consumer, be creative: the recipe for success in the metaverse isn’t all that different to the one in the real world. The difference is that the metaverse is a whole new world, with endless opportunities, but also risks and responsibilities. The advertising industry has an opportunity to shape, and be shaped by, a new world. Let’s embrace that opportunity with creativity and decency.
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