By Adam Craig, Storm’s Head of Corporate
It is likely that over the last couple of months you will have come across the word ‘metaverse’. It’s not a new term. Its first recorded use was actually in a novel released almost 30 years ago – Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. But it has been the talk of the tech industry over the last year, particularly with Facebook rebranding as Meta in 2021.
It was a move that demonstrated the tech giants are going to pursue the opportunities presented by a ‘metaverse’ aggressively. And with promises of how it will revolutionise the way we do business, visit friends, shop and network, you can understand why. With so much hype around what is still a theoretical concept, is there merit in preparing ourselves for life in a virtual universe? The simple answer, in our opinion, is yes.
Firstly, this is not a marketing ploy by Facebook. The metaverse has been an aspiration of the gaming community – particularly Epic Games the developer of Fortnite – for many years. Microsoft has announced a focus on it. And we’re all familiar with the movie franchise The Matrix, which released its latest film in December. Zuckerberg himself has said the creation of this new way of life will not be achieved by working in isolation, it will be a massive collaboration of tech giants and start-ups.
The word metaverse is a combination of the Greek term Meta – popularly used as a prefix to mean after or beyond – and the English word universe. So in layman’s terms it is the next universe. In a remarkable piece of foresight, the lead character in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel moves in and out of a place called the metaverse. He describes it as a small-scale urban landscape created via code where users can have lifelike experiences. Sounds like he may have travelled back in time!
Using VR, AR and our current tech tools, the metaverse will combine both the physical and digital worlds. The metaverse is an immersive next-generation version of the internet, likely rendered by different forms of technology.
Different corporations will probably have their own visions or even local versions of the metaverse but, like the internet, they will be connected, so you can move from one to the other. Last year, Cathy Hackl, a so-called tech futurist, wrote an interesting piece for Forbes where she depicted two metaverse scenarios, which are great examples of how we, as brand and marketing specialists, can leverage this new universe.
Firstly, she says, “imagine walking down the street. Suddenly, you think of a product you need. Immediately next to you, a vending machine appears, filled with the product and variations you were thinking of. You stop, pick an item from the vending machine, it’s shipped to your house, and then continue on your way.” Simple in its execution, but immensely powerful for brands and retailers.
Next, she goes on to describe a typical scenario in my household! “Imagine a husband and wife. The husband offers to go to the store but the wife can’t remember the name and type of product she needs. Her brain-computer interface device recognizes it for her and transmits a link to her husband’s device, along with what stores and aisles it’s located in.” A slightly frightening use of technology that will certainly reduce lost sales from forgetfulness in the future.
According to digital fashion house The Fabricant, the metaverse could provide another route for retailers to engage with Gen Z. This age group has grown up navigating both the digital and physical worlds, and don’t typically feel a loyalty to brands that older consumers do. They are open to new experiences and aren’t put off by novel technologies. In recent times, we have seen many brands exploring marketing activities in the virtual worlds of Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft – to try and engage more with this generation.
Gucci and Ralph Lauren have both released digital collections that can be worn by avatars. When it comes to stunts they don’t come much more aggressive than fast-food chain Wendy’s sending a character resembling its mascot into Fornite to ‘kill’ all the freezers in the game’s Food Fight mode. Why? Because the Durr Burger restaurant in the game stored its virtual beef in freezers and Wendy’s saw this as an opportunity to advertise its “fresh, never frozen beef” – a stunt which grew social media mentions of the brand by 119%.
Until recently our existing marketing to consumers has mainly been two-dimensional; it was two-dimensional before the Internet and it has remained mostly two-dimensional since. For all its complexities, the metaverse will do one simple thing. It will enable creative marketeers to develop campaigns in immersive environments.
If the metaverse is an open walled universe, then brand storytelling can come to life. Brands will be able to demonstrate the sustainability of their products better than ever before. Consumers will be able to find out more about the provenance of a product, the carbon footprint, the owners and much more. And like Wendy’s, those that want to be disruptive will be able to develop campaigns that can interact in unique ways with consumers.
The metaverse discussion will rumble on for years to come – it is not going to appear tomorrow. But the fact it was shortlisted by Collins Dictionary for its Word of the Year in 2021, demonstrates how seriously we should be taking this phenomenon.
While it’s hard to say at this stage whether the metaverse will ever achieve the unanimity of the internet, some brands will be betting big on shaping this exciting new world of interaction and developing engaging new experiences for shoppers.
Time will tell what works in this next generation. Whether it is telling customers about the environmental credentials of your product and engaging with a virtual Greta Thunberg avatar, or finding innovative ways for people to purchase and experience items, ultimately brands will need to decide for themselves if they can afford to be left behind.