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How Will Ad Tech Adapt to the Metaverse?

Tim Cross 28 March, 2022 

One of the few things you can say for sure about the metaverse is that brands will be involved.

The metaverse, by most compelling definitions, doesn’t truly exist yet – and won’t for a while. But brands are already deliberating over their metaverse strategies, and agencies are setting up new practices to help them get there.

While some of this enthusiasm may seem premature (or simply the result of in-game activations being labelled as metaverse experiences), the metaverse undoubtedly will open up a host of new opportunities for advertisers as and when it does arrive.

And wherever advertisers go, ad tech will soon follow. The challenges and opportunities associated with the metaverse will likely give birth to a whole new breed of ad tech companies, each creating new solutions to help brands design, target, deploy, and measure their metaverse activations.

Metaverse-proof gaming tech

Some of the ad tech we’re likely to see deployed in the metaverse won’t necessarily look too different from what’s already being used in gaming activations today.

Most obviously, tools which allow display or video ads to be inserted into in-game environments will almost certainly have a place in the metaverse. These tools, currently used to programmatically insert ads into natural spaces in gaming worlds (such as billboards), would fulfil a similar function in a broader virtual world. Indeed most of these companies are already openly talking about their metaverse ambitions.

This tech will grow more and more sophisticated as it adapts to the metaverse. The most common use case nowadays is the aforementioned in-game billboards. Some of the more advanced technologies are able to inject branding onto in-game items – but often those activations require a lot more manual work.

The metaverse will offer a much wider range of inventory sources – think virtual TV screens, magazines, radio stations, and likely whole new types of inventory which have no real-world parallel. So these existing tools will likely expand to cover a much wider range of formats and inventory types.

“When metaverse retail becomes a thing, lots of new display spaces will start cropping up virtually,” said Jakub Chmielniak, co-founder at Fanadise, a company which creates ‘utility NFTs’ for the metaverse. “Imagine digital shopping malls, where brands are able to interact with digital shoppers with VR headsets; hence there’ll be a lot of space for new, and dedicated forms of 3D advertising.”

Even for the basic billboard-type ads, the technology won’t work exactly as it does today. Currently, in-play tech companies strike deals with game developers and publishers, in order to access inventory.

But the metaverse won’t be centrally owned, there will be no one body that owns all billboards. Instead inventory will be owned by a mix of different players – virtual landowners, perhaps even virtual local councils, and individuals. This could open up room for ad networks which aggregate and sell this inventory, and/or metaverse equivalents of real world companies which provide data and planning tools for outdoor inventory.

Ultimately though, since these solutions are being built to work with today’s ad tech ecosystem, it seems likely that the inventory they offer will be available through the same programmatic partners as today. For example a DSP which currently offers in-play ads could well plug into metaverse inventory from the same suppliers.

Stretch-to-fit

Other bits of metaverse ad tech will fulfil a similar role to existing products, but will require much more significant adapting – meaning there’ll be more room for new players to emerge which specialise in these areas.

Viewability measurement for example will be a fundamentally different challenge in the metaverse compared with standard video or display formats.

On the one hand, it will be much harder to set a standard definition for viewability, given the much greater range of variables at play. In a 3D metaverse environment, factors including how far a viewer is from an ad, whether the ad was obscured at all by another object, and how fast the viewer is moving past the ad would all have to be considered.

On the other hand, there’s potential for tech companies to have a much better understanding of how much attention users have paid to ads. The Financial Times reported earlier this year that Meta is working on eyeball tracking technology, which could potentially tell advertisers exactly how much time an individual spent looking at their ad. This same technology could have uses beyond standard ad formats too – for example tracking how much attention individuals are paying to a brand’s logo within an experiential metaverse activation.

In fact measurement as a whole will look very different, especially given that a lot of metaverse marketing will focus on experiences and engagement.

“The quality of these experiences outweighs the quantity of eyeballs that see them,” said Andrew French, VP of commercial development at Admix, an in-play advertising platform. “We shouldn’t judge this new space by the standards of the old (attention, tracking, CPMs, CTRs etc). In the metaverse, we’ll see true brand engagement with virtual interactions, NFTs, and value exchanges that give creators and consumers a genuine stake and share of ownership.”

Ensuring brand safety will similarly be a very different challenge in the metaverse. Overall the metaverse will be a much less controlled environment than a regular webpage, or even a social platform. Interaction between users is live, and can happen almost anywhere, making it much harder to vet and filter out inappropriate behaviour.

So brand safety may be more concerned with understanding areas of the metaverse where inappropriate behaviour is more likely to happen. In the same way that some forums are much more polite than others, some sections of the metaverse may carry less risk. Different sections of the metaverse may also have different rules governing what behaviour is and isn’t possible – understanding these rules could be another key component of brand safety.

A whole new world… of ad tech

Of course not all ad tech components of the metaverse will have direct parallels with existing tech. We’re certain to see entirely new categories of companies carving out their own space, designed to fit the unique properties of the metaverse.

Given the experiential nature of the metaverse, it’s possible to predict a few of these categories.

For example, there’ll be tools for easily creating virtual branded items, as well as metaverse experiences. Agencies are still likely to have a big role here, especially in designing bespoke experiences. But tech platforms will step in to automate the creation and placement of these experiences.

“We think advertising in the metaverse should be less concerned with replicating 2D ads in 3D worlds i.e. nobody wants banner ads popping up in these spaces,” said Matthew Warneford, CEO and founder of games studio Dubit. “Instead brands should turn to building their own unique worlds in the metaverse. This is a chance to build spaces that participants can visit, be entertained, etc. And unlike traditional ad campaigns, these don’t need to be games that run for 6 months, it could run for just a few weeks.”

We’re sure to see entirely new kinds of measurement for these sorts of campaigns. too.

If branded items exist as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), it could be fairly straightforward to measure who these NFTs have passed too. But brands will still want to know how users engage with these items. For example, if a brand creates virtual t-shirts as part of a campaign, how many people are actually wearing them, as opposed to just owning them?

Experiences will also require different forms of measurement, likely stretching beyond just how many people were reached. 

Again, interaction will be a key metric, measuring which parts of a metaverse activation consumers engaged with and how much time they spent. And measuring consumers’ emotional responses (something else Meta is working on) could become a common way to assess a campaign’s impact.

But while the experiential nature of brand interaction will certainly lead to innovation, some believe metaverse marketing will lean so heavily into experiences and value exchanges that the term ‘ad tech’ won’t really be relevant anymore.

“Terms like ‘adtech’ and ‘monetisation’ don’t quite capture what we’re doing in the metaverse. As we move from an attention economy (Web2) to an ownership economy (Web3), we have a new opportunity to offer our community real value versus just making money from them,” said Admix’s Andrew French. “You’ll find that the true winners will think about the user and their experience.”

So perhaps the metaverse will be completely devoid of ad tech after all.

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2022-03-28T13:54:25+01:00

About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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