The Metaverse presents companies with a challenge: effectively position their products in a virtual Wild West of new consumer expectations — with no instruction manual and little room for error.
Advertisers must constantly adapt to the latest trends to keep their products in front of consumers’ eyes. On the radio, television, and subsequently, online, this has become associated with a delay or interruption of experiences. But in the embodied Metaverse — the massively multi-user virtual worlds of the near future — advertisers will need to get creative: they need to be able to sell products without backlash for detracting from user enjoyment.
In the Metaverse, brands need to strike a balance between being present and authentic by providing real value to consumers through creativity and technological innovation, explains Lewis Smithingham, director of creative solutions at Media Monks.
“Brands must redefine their approaches to audience engagement […] create experiences people want,” he says.
The Metaverse is intriguing because of its – theoretically – unparalleled flexibility and its potential for everything-at-once experiences. Despite being a virtual world, it will undoubtedly incorporate conventional advertisement mediums, though reimagined.
In-world advertising is not new to the gaming industry. Electronic Arts placed election adverts in many of its games as far back as Barrack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. Games like Madden 09, NBA Live 08, and Need for Speed featured pictures of the then-presidential candidate with calls to vote.
By now, the strategy has gone mainstream. Many companies offer in-game ad placement and marketing metrics, displaying banners pitch-side in digital football games and on other in-game billboards. One advantage of these advertisements is that they do not interrupt gameplay; in fact, many players approve of them due to the added realism.
Another avenue that has considerable prospects in virtual spaces is experiential marketing. This is especially true, given the potential for in-game branded apparel. Player avatars still need style — digital fashion has already begun unfurling.
The potential for fusing sales tactics from the offline world with online products is clear.
For illustration, in 2019, artist Childish Gambino used a mobile application during the Coachella music festival to launch his co-created Adidas trainers. Fans had to sign a contract stating they would wear the shoes, attend the show, and keep the shoes on all weekend.
The combination of setting, timeliness and viral social media quality will likely be rife in any immersive virtual reality incorporating digital merchandise. Attaching promotions to events or specific virtual spaces could become standard practice.
As a medium, the Metaverse could be exceptionally freeing for creative thinkers to develop new and surprising ways to engage with consumers. It is probably a safe bet that sponsorships and influencer deals will continue and even take on novel arrangements.
Crucially, brands will need to participate in play rather than merely plaster the walls and eyeballs of authentic player-consumers. The first wave of this comes from luxury brands collaborating with virtual world builders. Gucci and Roblox, for example, hosted a two-week art installation for early adopters of the nascent Metaverse to explore.
As a new frontier, companies and advertisers also have a particular responsibility to tread carefully in the Metaverse. The product’s unformed nature means there is a clear potential for them to overdo it, to sell too greedily. They might even shun or starve any platforms that go too far. Although, any unpleasant clutter within virtual environments is likely to be met with a swift response from users.