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The Metaverse – I Just Don’t Get It


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What is it – According to Facebook/Meta it is “the next evolution of social connection”, an environment allowing users to “socialise, learn, collaborate and play in ways that go beyond what we can imagine”. Effectively an online world where we can undertake many of the tasks we already complete in the real world from the comfort of our own home.


Personally, I have an issue with the phrase “beyond what we can imagine”, in 2003 Second Life was released. Peaking at just over 1m users Second Life allowed users to immerse themselves in an online world allowing cooperative role-playing, with an internal economy allowing users to buy and sell products.


Similarly, with the Ready Player One, sci-fi novel being released in 2011 (and a Steven Spielberg blockbuster following in 2018), covering most of the potential routes the Metaverse will take, it’s harder to not let our imaginations run away with the potential rather than struggling to comprehend Mark Zuckerberg’s vision.


Meeting in the Metaverse

The first thing I would advise is caution; in the digital landscape we are often quick to jump on the latest update. Only a few years ago digital marketing was abuzz with the opportunities voice search would present. Working in Paid Search it is clear the revolution expected by voice search has yet to arrive, in fact anecdotally most people I know only use voice assistant devices to control their Spotify accounts and the volume.


Just because Adidas and Nike have rushed out to buy space in the Metaverse doesn’t mean your brand needs to do so. Both brands have enormous brand equity, with a passionate following. In the case of Nike’s venture on online game platform Roblox, they have built a “clubhouse” where impassioned fans can share in a lifestyle experience, playing mini prize games to gain exclusive access to collectible content.


All with the aim of growing the culture and love of the brand. Brand equity as strong as that seen by these brands is hard to come by, so if your aim is branding the Metaverse could be a great place to interact with potential “fans”.


Recently VCCP, a media agency in London, opened a new office on Roblox. They have done so to allow their employees to learn more about advertising in gaming. Whether or not this approach from other businesses becomes the norm is still to be seen, however, it does highlight the opportunity for education on the Metaverse. Gamification of education could open up academia to individuals who have struggled with learning in the past. Unfortunately, this opportunity is unlikely to be 100% altruistic and with VR headsets currently expensive, it could further enhance the education disparity across socio-economic groups.


Mark Zuckerburg introducing the Metaverse

One of the main issues most online platforms have had problems with is the policing of their platforms. This is especially true when it comes to online hate and protecting children, how will Meta fair on an open platform when they appear to have struggled to get to grips with the issues on Facebook? Will Mark Zuckerberg be taking on the role of a “Sixer” & laying down the law of the Metaverse, unlikely to say the least.


The cynic in me sees this as a money grab, with sales of the Oculus VR headset stagnating slightly they have released a platform that requires the use of a VR headset. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement sales of their headset increased.


Whilst sales grow it is still seen as a niche product with no immediate mainstream appeal and a reasonably high price point. If to access the Metaverse we all need headsets and haptic suits, they stand to make a large profit on these “accessories” to access this online universe. The fear remains that a large proportion of the world will find access to this level of tech hard, especially with current price points. Reinforcing the concern about access to education similar to that seen in the UK during lockdowns when schools closed.


Advertising inside the metaverse

Is there an appetite for online alternative reality? Across the country we have spent the past two years in and out of lockdowns, most people’s only outlet for socialising coming via Facetime, Zoom or the House Party app. As soon as rules were relaxed most of the population were back in the real world, returning to their past social lives. The obvious behaviour, once restrictions are lifted, is to partake in activities that were “banned” previously. Under normal circumstances, users might be more willing to spend longer online.


Looking at the current state of the nation’s mental health there is a suggestion that online interaction will never be able to replace the in-person human contact, with this releasing more endorphins than the online alternative. Facebook users dropped for the first quarter in their history (Q4 2021), with the company citing TikTok capturing users’ attentions. Whilst Meta look to improve their video solutions to compete here, creating an alternative universe where TikTok might have to operate in the future would wrestle control back from their latest competitor. In a “if you can’t beat them, join them” world, Meta are clearly still exploring the “beat them” part of the argument.


Any active user on Facebook or Instagram will have grown accustomed to the advertising on the platforms. In line with privacy laws, it is estimated that Meta will make $10bn less as a result of advertisers moving spend off the platform.


The Metaverse is likely to become a haven for advertisers, with Meta patenting technology that can track what you are looking at and how your body moves. This way advertisers can become more targeted and gain access to far more information about their audiences given the reactions they have to ads. If the Metaverse takes off, advertisers will have need to be in a position to deliver relevant and bespoke creative. The race to the start has already begun with agencies already offering solutions for advertising on the Metaverse. Many of the agencies are already involved in advertising on gaming platforms, so begin with a head start.


Metaverse image from Connect 2021

As mentioned before, with Voice Search traditional marketing agencies should exercise caution in pivoting their offering to support a future on the Metaverse. For the kudos and new wins you might make from the pivot there must be a concern of alienating current clients and moving from the means that won you recognition in the first place. In my opinion, advertisers should adopt a “watch this space” approach to the metaverse, whilst a great deal is being written about the Metaverse it feels a few years off.


To what extent are these companies selling the online universal dream to shift our attention from the fact our environment is at an important tipping point. With the creation of most of these worlds taking place on blockchain which is often responsible for a “graveyard of dead computers” due to the heat they emit. As the world potentially heats to the point of no return should we be focusing on the real world rather than building a new one at a greater carbon cost?


Currently, it is hard to see past the fact Meta are effectively creating The OASIS featured in Ready Player One.

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