Metaverse Marketing: Welcome to the future
Today, we’re looking into the future. Not the future of our physical world, but that of a digital (parallel?) universe that’s now commonly referred to as the metaverse. At the moment, the metaverse is quite loosely defined and still in the infancy stages of its ideation and existence. By the end of this blog, you’ll have better idea of what the metaverse is as we know it and what it could be in the future—including its potential implications on the media landscape and for marketers.
What is the metaverse?
Simply put, the metaverse is “a virtual world where people can socialize, work and play.”1
But to better understand the concept behind it, it’s worth understanding the word’s fictional origins. The word metaverse first appeared in the 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson to describe a vast, three-dimensional virtual reality world full of avatars representing digital versions of real people. The concept is probably familiar: Ernest Cline explored a similar world in “Ready Player One,” which was brought to the silver screen by Steven Spielberg in 2018. In “Ready Player One,” the metaverse goes by “the OASIS” and is a 3D virtual reality gaming universe widely used as an escape from the story’s dystopian reality.
As the term gained traction, some suggested that the internet itself can be considered a metaverse (or a precursor to it) as it operates in a similar way: a virtual space that connects people across the physical world to socialize, learn and work together. Beyond that, online gaming worlds like Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft have also been suggested as “precursors” to the metaverse, where users create virtual characters/avatars and help create the virtual worlds they’re immersing themselves in.3 But most people are looking at the metaverse as the next iteration of the internet in the form of an open-sourced, seamless and endless virtual reality—a world where users will contribute to building while they engage with worlds built for them. Maybe most importantly, the metaverse is expected to combine virtual and physical places like never before through the use of emerging augmented reality and virtual reality technologies. Think of it as the next version of the internet, combining the physical world, a virtual reality, and an augmented arena where previously unconnected worlds interact in infinite and seamless ways.
Fast-forward to today, about 19 years after the first use of the word metaverse. One of the world’s largest and most powerful companies has changed its name to Meta as it starts heavily investing in efforts to build a metaverse as the next place for its users to connect and engage.
“In an interview with The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg described the metaverse as ‘an embodied internet,’ basically an upgraded version of the internet where people can have ‘different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage.’”2
Facebook and the metaverse
While we’re a long way off from being able to achieve a metaverse that looks or works anything like the virtual worlds imagined in “Snow Crash” or “Ready Player One,” Meta is already at work executing its vision of the metaverse using its 3D virtual reality Oculus headsets as the base hardware for access. The current version of Facebook’s metaverse, although a step in the right direction toward the open virtual world we anticipate the metaverse to be, is more like a 3D version of its current platforms. It’s a walled garden that can only be accessed with an Oculus VR headset, although Facebook has stated its plan to have the metaverse accessible by more devices. Currently, you can create an avatar that represents you, watch 3D videos, play games and attend virtual meetings, setting the groundwork for both social and work settings. These meeting rooms go beyond your typical Zoom call with the ability to turn toward participants to hear them more clearly and collaborate on a whiteboard by gesturing with the controller in your hand.1
For the moment, needing an Oculus VR headset to access Facebook’s current version of its metaverse presents a unique opportunity the company doesn’t have with its current social platforms, which run on other companies’ operating systems and hardware, like Apple and Google. As we move into the metaverse, though, Facebook’s Oculus VR hardware is one of a few popular and affordable options on the market. As metaverse technologies continue to evolve and are more widely adopted, it’s likely that a wide range of competitor VR and AR devices will all work together the way different computers and browsers do today. Facebook has hardly done a suitable job policing its current social products without full control of the hardware, so we’ll see how this goes in the short term.
VR user demographics and advertising in the metaverse
Like any emerging technology, the first adopters are typically the younger demographic and those working in or around tech. A GlobalWebIndex study of VR user demographics in the US and UK shows 35% of users ages 16-34 have used a VR headset, 26% for 35-44, 12% for 45-54 and 6% for 55-64. From a gender perspective, 30% of men surveyed had used a VR headset at least once compared to 16% of women.6 When it comes to a desire for something like a metaverse in the current VR world, a study from Greenlight Ventures showed that 77% of VR headset owners are interested in social interactions within the VR world.6
The big question for marketers is what advertising opportunities will look like in the Facebook metaverse. And the answer remains to be seen. In a virtual and augmented reality world that in part reflects the physical world, we can imagine ads will look pretty similar to the online and offline ads of today, but with much stronger engagement features and measurement capabilities. There will likely be big sponsorship opportunities within virtual 3D games and spaces: VR billboards in virtual and augmented-reality high-traffic areas, VR and AR video spots, VR and AR stores or ecommerce experiences—the opportunities are endless. Ads in the Facebook metaverse will likely begin at the macro sponsorship levels for big brands, but much like the beginnings of their social media platforms, Facebook will have to make its metaverse enticing while gaining a certain level of adoption before we see anything like the social media ads market reflected today in its metaverse.
The future for the metaverse
If the metaverse evolves and is adopted as predicted, it will change the media landscape forever, just as the rise of the internet already has. We’re still a long way from the metaverse supplanting the internet, but if and when that day comes, it will be another media revolution similar to the one brought about by the internet era. Even though the metaverse—Facebook’s version of it or otherwise—may not be finished or ready to recreate today’s online ad marketplace in a virtual world, VR and AR technologies already have some very cool real-world applications for promotion, education, work and socialization. Marketers who engage with the emerging technologies in these precursory places will ultimately be better off, especially as the metaverse, VR and AR technologies become more integrated into our everyday lives.
Ben Swan is DS+CO’s senior ad operations specialist, optimizing client campaigns and hitting marketing goals.