When Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebrand of the social media giant Facebook to ‘Meta’, he might have catapulted the metaverse into the global spotlight – but he didn’t invent it. It was Neal Stephenson who first coined the term in his 1982 science fiction novel, Snow Crash. The concept of a metaverse is even older, dating back to a scientist called Charles Wheatstone who first posited the idea of ‘binocular vision’.
But what do we mean when we talk about today’s metaverse?
While it’s hard to land on one single definition, there are a few things everyone can agree on. It’s an immersive, self-contained digital environment where connected virtual experiences simulate the real world or create imagined worlds. It also exists in real-time, with participants enjoying agency in the form of avatars. But however you define it, it’s rewriting the rules of marketing.
Goldman Sachs estimates that the metaverse could be worth up to USD 8 trn in the future. Similarly, Morgan Stanley argued that there has been a four-year acceleration in metaverse-related companies. There’s no getting around it; the metaverse is now in the mainstream and it represents a huge opportunity.
So, how should marketers position themselves in this new environment?
How do big brands use the metaverse?
In 2019, American fast-food chain Wendy’s launched its own ‘Food Fight’ game on Fortnite, a gaming network with over 350m active users. The brand joined ‘Team Pizza’ in the fight against ‘Team Burger’, but instead of killing other players, it started destroying the freezers containing Team Burger’s frozen beef. Why? Because Wendy’s only does ‘fresh, never frozen beef’. In nine hours, Twitch recorded 1.5m + minutes watched and Wendy’s saw a 119% increase in mentions on social media. It was a clever way to sell its slogan, but it also enabled the brand to insert itself organically into the game’s story and meet a whole new audience.
Wendy’s is just one example of hundreds of big brands now deep-diving into the metaverse, from Deliveroo and Coca-Cola to Nike and Louis Vuitton. It offers a unique opportunity for these brands to target millennials and Gen X, but it also makes it easier to share stories, creates new and exciting ways for audiences to engage with brands and can build more meaningful connections. Prices for running campaigns in the metaverse are still comparatively low, so it’s a good time for marketers to start experimenting with the parameters of what is possible in this new world.
How can I start marketing in the metaverse?
Regular advertising doesn’t work in the metaverse, so marketers need to think creatively about how to engage audiences and maximise impact. Let’s dig a little deeper into three routes for marketing in the metaverse.
1. Tap into existing gaming ecosystems
The metaverse may have come a long way in the past few years, but gaming is still at its forefront. There are some three billion gamers peppered across the planet, making it the biggest entertainment medium in the world. Contrary to stereotypes, these gamers average 31 years old and 45% of them are women, too. When used properly, gaming offers an opportunity for brands to insert themselves organically, authentically and without disruption. According to Admix, 93% of media buyers intend to run in-game advertising by 2025.
This advertising can take dozens of formats, from in-game virtual billboards and branded in-game assets to interstitial ads and advergames – games built explicitly to promote a brand. For instance, Bidstack, an in-game ad platform, recently created a playable avatar for Paco Rabanne in a sci-fi arcade game to promote a new fragrance.
To create a successful brand partnership of this kind, you need to find the right audiences and identify platforms that provide the best brand fit. You can tailor ad experiences to segment users, just like social media. You should also consider what format works best for your service or product – is it a virtual billboard, or could you use music, banner ads or video instead? For instance, reward ads are particularly popular with puzzle-format games.
2. Explore direct-to-avatar sales
The way we express ourselves in the digital world is changing fast. Research from the Institute of Digital Fashion found that 92% of people think customisation is important when creating virtual avatars, which offers a whole new world of revenue and brand awareness opportunities. In late 2021, Forever 21 launched the Forever 21 Shop City on Roblox, allowing users to own and manage their personal store. Last month, Nike and RTFKTan, an NFT studio, launched a line of virtual sneaker NFTs, with some of these CryptoKicks now selling for above six figures.
Marketers considering moving into this space can partner with in-platform creators or 3D and AR platforms with marketplaces to create tradeable digital garments. Or, you could turn your products into an NFT, sold on marketplaces such as Rarible. You don’t need to have a huge infrastructure to develop them, either – there’s a whole host of web resources to help. Many brands have taken to pairing these NFTs with a product launch or physical product to promote new collections, too.
3. Buy virtual real estate and create ephemeral experiences
Some brands have already started carving out permanent metaverse real estate. Snoop Dogg famously built his own ‘Snoopverse’, where he launched the world’s first music video that takes place in the metaverse. Brands like Hyundai, Adidas and Vans have created spaces where potential buyers can test out and customise products, and even earn rewards to spend in the physical world. This approach could be particularly effective for marketers working in industries such as commercial real estate.
Other brands are creating more ephemeral experiences in the metaverse, to complement real-life events. Warner Bros. created an entire virtual neighbourhood and hosted a virtual party to promote the movie ‘Into the Heights’, complete with behind-the-scenes footage, dance tutorials, mini-games and music. Gucci complemented a real-life exhibition with the launch of the Gucci Garden on Roblox, a two-week installation where avatars could purchase bespoke items. Virtual conventions, meetings and events fall into this category, too.
For marketers looking to get into this space, costs and demand for creativity can be high. But it also offers a real opportunity to enhance your brand’s storytelling capabilities. These immersive experiences accelerate brand engagement, reach and loyalty.
A new world of marketing?
It’s healthy to be a little sceptical about marketing in the metaverse. Costs are high and the parameters of this landscape are still relatively unknown. But brands that really understand the true value this format can bring to their target customers can make a big impact. It offers a unique opportunity for organic placement, exciting engagements and creative storytelling. Those that refuse to acknowledge its place in the future of marketing risk getting left behind.
While the metaverse might still be in its infancy, one thing is for sure – it’s not hype, it’s happening.