The metaverse: is it alive or is it dead?

The metaverse is only just beginning

There are many out there who will claim that the metaverse is a fad that’s already beginning to die down. In fact, it’s more likely to be a long-term and paradigm-shifting trend that’s just getting started. Here’s why brands should not be sounding the death knell of the metaverse – which, in truth, has yet to emerge in its full form.

The metaverse is dead. Or is it? That’s the question a lot of marketers are asking right now after Meta recently lost roughly 25% of its market value, largely blamed on the investment and attention spent on its metaverse project and other virtual reality (VR) efforts.

So does that mean VR is dying, dead or, at a minimum, irrelevant? Well, there are certainly some challenges when it comes to mixed reality (MR) platforms, the foundation of the so-called metaverse, whether that be VR, augmented reality (AR) or some hybrid of the two. The hardware is controversial to say the least. VR headsets are often expensive, uncomfortable and can cause motion sickness, and the software might look like the video games created back in the early 2000s. Even AR, arguably the technology that has the most potential for marketing, seems largely regulated to selfie filters.

But most industry pros who have had some deeper experience with these immersive technologies generally agree that they are still very impressive opportunities for branded storytelling. And while we might still be in the infancy stage, both technically and from an adoption perspective, there’s good reason to pay attention to them today. MR, the catch-all phrase that basically describes some sort of digital content layered seamlessly on top of the actual world that we physically experience, can enable consumers to engage with brands in ways we have never been able to do before as marketers. And let’s face it, we are all just waiting for that shiny new Apple invention to drop that will turn some small part of this fringe MR technology into bona fide, cannot live without, FOMO.

While MR might still seem new to many marketers, advertising is nothing new in the metaverse. A few years ago, Verizon’s short-lived Oath launched the first-of-its-kind programmatic display offering for virtual worlds. Unity 3D, the game engine platform that powers the lion’s share of mobile games, has a dedicated ad platform, allowing fully immersive ad products to be served within XR games where Unity is used as the engine. And beyond that, there are hundreds of startups looking at the metaverse as an opportunity to provide brands new ways to engage with customers.

You cannot really talk about the metaverse right now without people mentioning non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The rise of blockchain technology, combined with youth culture and the independent art scene, has generated a lot of interest in NFTs, both in the marketing world and culture at large. And while NFTs might be peaking on the top of the hype cycle, NFTs have introduced a whole new way of thinking about the value of digital content that is here to stay. Through NFTs, younger consumers have declared their need to be associated with brands and culture in a digital but very meaningful and tangible way.

Brands can (and should) participate in MR through trial and experimentation with their marketing activations. While building ads in places where less than 1% of their customers might actually see it seems pretty counterintuitive, having an early, established presence has proven to give brands a massive head start when the flock finally turns. Consider the early Oreo and Taco Bell work that took place when social media was just going mainstream in the early 2010s. It’s no surprise that these brands still lead the pack today.

So no, the metaverse is not dead. As a matter of fact, it’s barely been born. If anything, the metaverse is really just another corporate rebrand of our hyper-connected, digital life. Brands should be thinking about what ‘digital’ actually means in a world that has become almost entirely digital. Branded digital content now has the potential to be a commodity that has both value and permanence. This new paradigm should give marketers even more reason to craft high-quality, engaging experiences for their consumers, whether that’s creating a virtual portal where you can meet your brand hero, or a tradeable jpeg of a less-than-entertained simian.

Layne Harris is the head of creative technology and innovation at VIA.

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