All Aboard the Metaverse

01 December, 2021 

Whether you’re a cynic who thinks Mark Zuckerberg’s pivot to the metaverse is a PR move to distract from Facebook’s ever-growing list of reputational problems, or an optimist who’s excited about one of technology’s newest frontiers – one thing is difficult to dispute:  Facebook’s rebrand to ‘Meta’ has helped reinforce the idea that the metaverse is part of our future. 

According to Google Trends data, searches for the term “metaverse” peaked on the day of the Facebook rebrand (28th October). The day before there had been almost 20 times less interest in the term. Since that point, searches for the term have remained consistently higher than they had ever been before. 

Into the metaverse

With all the interest generated since Facebook’s rebrand, brands, platforms and IP owners have been scrambling around looking for ways to get in on the metaverse. 

Match Group, which owns dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and Plenty of Fish, has said that it wants to create a dating metaverse. The company has already begun using virtual goods within its app, including a currency called “Tinder Coins”.

CEO Shar Dubey spoke about the company leveraging Hyperconnect, a Seoul-based social app company that it acquired earlier this year. In a letter to shareholders, the group detailed what this could entail. 

“The experience includes a live virtual world, “Single Town”, in which singles, represented by their avatars, can move around, and engage with others by audio in various virtual locations,” the letter stated. 

“This new experience provides a glimpse into how metaverse experiences could be applicable to dating and it is the sort of innovation that will help us evolve our portfolio as we enter the next phase of dating,” the company added. 

Enter the brands

Recently there have been announcements from companies such as Charlotte Tilbury, Dyson and Nike about building their brands in the metaverse. 

In the days after the Meta announcement was made Nike went so far as to apply for digital trademarks on some of its products and slogans for digital use. The company clearly sees a need to protect its brand identity in the metaverse.

Clearly there are many brands who feel that they need to be in the metaverse. But others in the industry are more cynical. 

Tom Goodwin is former head of innovation at Zenith, he now runs a media consultancy company, All We Have is Now. 

“Hard working, exhausted and well intentioned CMOs are keen to remind the rest of the world they exist, now conferences are on pause, and what better way than jumping on an immediate, cheap to access, cutting edge bandwagon that nobody really understands,” he said, when asked about brands marketing in the metaverse. 

Platforms who are not metaverse natives are also expanding into the area. For example, although SoundCloud told VideoWeek they had “no specific plans at the moment” the company is nonetheless still recruiting for a senior business manager to work on the metaverse. 

Content owners are also looking for ways to take part, with the likes of Disney saying they wanted to build their own metaverse. CEO Bob Chapek told CNBC, “My vision is to use Disney+ as the platform for the metaverse.” Chapek didn’t elaborate much further on what he meant by the statement, although the company’s blend of blockbuster intellectual property, video game and theme park experience  would suggest they can have a significant role to play in metaverse entertainment.

Metavision is a company that helps brands and IP integrate into the metaverse. The company is part of the ITV Group, meaning that while the company works with others, ITV is one of its core clients. 

Metavision has recently launched a new campaign in collaboration with ITV and John Lewis. The campaign will feature the castle set from British reality programme “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!” in Fortnite Creative. 

Metavision’s co-founder Rhys Hancock says that “I’m A Celebrity…” was a natural fit for the metaverse. 

“It delivers this huge simultaneous reach. “I’m A Celebrity…” is one of the biggest shows for under-30s in the UK, so we have created an experience that will capture some of that audience,” he said, “The key is it being authentic to the space. We do not see this as some kind of cash grab or cynical exercise. We have very extensive knowledge of what works in these spaces and what doesn’t. And this has been built out of a labour of love and also a lot of testing.”

While “I’m a Celebrity…” seemed like a perfect fit for the metaverse, there are brands and IPs who may be less of a natural fit. Hancock advises these brands to tread more carefully. 

“Some brands can go in gung-ho like we have with “I’m A Celebrity…” and John Lewis, because it’s a really good fit. Others might need to lean on pre-existing experiences or creators and communities within these spaces. We have different strategies for maybe less appropriate, less native brands that we can lean upon,” he said. 

Beyond a fad

While the metaverse has – at least in theory – broken into the mainstream following Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta announcement, the concept long predates Facebook’s adoption of the idea. The term actually dates back to the 1990s, and there have been many companies working on realising the metaverse for years. 

Metavision began work in 2020. Co-founder Luke Price says that in some ways, Facebook touting the metaverse as the next big thing is a win for them. 

“In some ways, it’s a bit of vindication, but I don’t think we were overly prophetic about it,” he said, “The concept of the metaverse has been there for a while, but Facebook has come in and blown it wide open.”

Others are more cynical about the metaverse as an impactful concept. 

“The Metaverse is a newly coined bag for a group of ideas that Silicon Valley is desperate to make happen, from AR to VR to Blockchain, it’s a cluster of dreams that are pushed by large tech companies not pulled by consumers,” said Tom Goodwin. 

Metavision says that while the Facebook to Meta rebrand has raised awareness of the concept, the company has “muddied the waters” slightly in terms of what the metaverse means. 

“Facebook’s vision is a real mix of things, and VR is a big part of that,” Rhys Hancock said, “Luke and I like VR, but we don’t necessarily feel like it’s a mainstream product in the way that platforms like Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft are, and ITV is proudly mainstream.”

Rhys Hancock adds that brands and IP owners shouldn’t enter the metaverse for the sake of it, but rather to reach a particular audience. 

“We’re not Metaverse evangelists. We go where we see the future of audiences and we’re building a strategy around that, rather than the metaverse for the sake of it,” Hancock said. 

However, for cynics like Goodwin, the metaverse is not going to bring about meaningful results for brands.

“The good news is that this can garner a little press attention, with almost no risk and with almost no investment, the bad news is that no meaningful metric will move on iota.  It’s harmless fun, except for it’s a sign of everything wrong in the industry. We should focus on technology that makes a difference, that impacts how consumers feel, and that alters the metrics that matter, even if it takes a long time,” he said.

However, Metavision and many others investing in the metaverse disagree. 

“The data speaks for itself in terms of the numbers of people engaging in these sorts of spaces, and the amount of time they spend there,” said Luke Price, “It feels like the start of the next iteration of social media.”

 

2021-12-01T13:05:42+01:00

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