The metaverse is hot. One need look no further for proof than the fact that Facebook changed its company name to Meta in October 2021. Consequently, the metaverse is one of the most talked-about topics in business right now. Companies are already figuring out how to make the most of what it has to offer. How might the metaverse help them make money? How might brands embrace advertising and marketing there?
The Metaverse Defined
As was the case with the internet back in the day, new definitions of the metaverse are constantly cropping up, from all quarters. There is a lot of speculation about the metaverse arriving in the future. But the term was actually coined decades ago in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash. Aspects of the metaverse — a shared virtual world where people can work, play, and live through digital twins, or avatars — are here already. Every time someone uses a digital currency, every time someone hangs out on Fortnite or Roblox (gaming is currently a big slice of the metaverse), we’re engaging with parts of metaverse (they’re just not yet connected seamlessly).
As the metaverse takes shape, savvy brands are already planting a flag in this rich terrain. And to do so, they are looking at things a tad differently. Brittan Heller, counsel with the American law firm Foley Hoag, puts it this way: “When you think about advertising in XR [extended reality, one of the building blocks of the metaverse], you should think about it as placement in the product instead of product placement.” Heller may be thinking of luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Marc Jacobs, which have designed digital products for the game Animal Crossing. Or Balenciaga, which has collaborated with Fortnite to drop exclusive wearable skins for in-game characters. She notes, “An ad in virtual reality may look like buying a designer jacket for your digital avatar [but] that’s an ad for a clothing company that you are wearing on your body.” Coveted digital fashion sometimes bests even real-world counterparts: in Roblox’s virtual world, for example, a digital-only Gucci bag sold for more money than the bag would have netted in the physical world.
Some metaverse advertising, of course, falls back on real-world models. Consider games like Tiki-Taka Soccer and FIFA Mobile, which are already incorporating billboards as part of the game universe. The billboards are meant to raise awareness —just like the billboards we pass on the highway — and if players wish, they can access more intel about the product.
But there is also a concerted effort to create advertising unique to the metaverse experience. The day when users can interact freely with embodiments of a brand — an avatar for a celebrity or an existing character from, say, Disney — is not far off.
The takeaway: there are already opportunities for brands to flex advertising muscle in the metaverse, and those opportunities are growing exponentially.
What Businesses Should Do
What does this mean for your brand? Does delving into the metaverse make sense for you? As you consider these questions, we recommend that you:
- Remember your audience first. How attuned are they to immersive worlds such as the metaverse? Is marketing and advertising in the metaverse a good fit for them? Currently, the biggest audience for the metaverse skews young: Gen Zers who have grown up gaming and for whom the intricacies of a virtual world are already familiar. But some brands are addressing this divide by reaching out directly to an older cohort. Roblox, for example, has developed features to appeal to older users. And so, the attendant question to ask yourself is: do you have the energy and resources to think outside the box and woo your audience, no matter what generation they inhabit?
- Assess your appetite for experimentation. This is a brave new world that’s constantly changing. How comfortable are you with that dynamic?
- Learn from businesses that have been getting involved in advertising and marketing in immersive gaming worlds, which are, as noted, extremely popular in the metaverse. A really good example consists of brands that have been embracing in-game ads, as we blogged here.