Opinion: Are brands ready for the metaverse – or vice versa?
The rules of marketing will be rewritten in the metaverse, but the focus will not sway from storytelling–that will always be key, regardless of the medium
Aug 30, 2022 10:01:00 AM | Article | Pranav Rastogi
Ever since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta and declared itself a champion of the metaverse, many brands have been eager to also get in the metaverse game for a head start on the next digital frontier.
However, the metaverse is still a new concept.
There remain many grey areas that brands must first do their due diligence on to decide whether they should make a metaverse play now, or whether waiting is the smarter choice. The golden rule is: if there is no good answer to important questions, then either the brand–or the metaverse–is not ready.
The race to the metaverse
By 2026, Gartner says, a quarter of us will be working, studying, shopping and socialising in the metaverse for at least an hour a day. It will have a ‘virtual economy’, which will include digital currencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), to buy, own and sell digital or physical items online.
Unsurprisingly, we are seeing brands experimenting with new metaverse experiences to establish first-mover advantage in what could be a very lucrative new space. Last year, Hyundai launched its Hyundai Mobility Adventure metaverse space in Roblox to showcase its products and future mobility solutions. Luxury fashion labels like Prada and Balenciaga were also the first to sell designs on Meta’s new online store for Facebook, Instagram and Messenger users to dress their virtual avatars.
Other brands are choosing to dip their toes in first by buying digital land–despite prices skyrocketing by as much as 500%. In January, consultancy firm PwC bought virtual land in The Sandbox, a blockchain-based 3D open world game. Sportswear leader Adidas and gaming brand Atari number among PwC’s neighbours; the former aims to build exclusive content and experiences, while the other plans to build a virtual theme park with a unique digital economy.
Staying authentic amidst the hype
With everyone seemingly hopping on the metaverse train, it is natural for brands to worry about the potential opportunity cost of not following the crowd. But as far as I’m concerned, it always comes back to authenticity.
Brands are used to deciding what platform to advertise and engage on based on where their audience is, as well as which is more authentic to the brand’s image. An apparel brand for young adults may create trendy TikTok and Instagram video content to appeal to the younger demographic, while brands focusing on mass market appeal may have more outdoor advertising and TV ads to get as many eyeballs as possible.
Deciding whether to participate in the metaverse requires similar considerations. Brands need to think about:
- Who and where is your audience?
- What are the messages you’re trying to propagate?
- Does a metaverse presence support your brand message?
- Is the metaverse the right medium to spread your message? Are there better alternatives for now?
At this point, we still do not know what the metaverse will even look like–what we are being sold now in the fancy teaser videos are still concepts and fantasies.
Brands that do decide to take the plunge must approach the metaverse as its own platform. They cannot hope to simply transplant a social media campaign into the metaverse–they must experiment, prepare for a lot of trial and error, and build things organically and in real-time. The key is always to focus on the storytelling–that has never changed, regardless of medium.
Who protects the metaverse?
For the metaverse to achieve popularity and longevity, it must be safe enough for people to interact, purchase, engage and invest in it comfortably. Unfortunately, we are not at that stage yet.
For a long time, the business model of web 2.0 companies revolved around speed and profit. As a result, ethical standards and enforcement could not keep pace. Facebook is infamous for its inadequacy in dealing with ethical issues around data usage and collection, as well as its opaque content moderation standards. It may have a new name now, but its problems remain.
The real-time nature of the metaverse makes it extremely challenging for brands to monitor and regulate at speed. Already there are numerous accounts of virtual harassment in the metaverse, ranging from virtual groping to more violent behaviour. Meta’s answer was to institute a four-foot ‘Personal Boundary’ between avatars in its Horizon Worlds VR experience, but this seems insufficient and reactive.
Managing information privacy and user safety is another question; how will brands protect both users and their sensitive data, and what is the scope of their liability? No one has the answers yet but finding them must be top priority for brands seriously considering making a metaverse play.
Making informed choices
If the metaverse does succeed in cementing itself as a cornerstone–if not the nexus–of web 3.0, then the question will not be whether brands should participate in it–it will be when. However, that can and should be an informed, planned choice, not blind band wagoning or as a last resort.
With the metaverse still in its infancy, there is some time to plan proactively instead of trying to play catch-up. Decision-makers must tackle these difficult but necessary questions now about whether the metaverse fits their brand, as well as the ethics and regulations that it must uphold for them to participate productively. This provides a rudimentary timeline or framework to know when the time is right to make the jump.
Ultimately, always look before you leap and do not get dazzled by the metaverse hype. Brands should stay focused on the story they are trying to tell and the audience they are trying to reach. Those remain the most important–metaverse or no.
The author is managing director of Redhill. This article first appeared on CampaignAsia.com