Ad Age | Marketing In The Metaverse —What Science Fiction Can Teach Brands About Web3
With marketing ploys that are just transaction schemes extended into a digital space, marketers are falling behind the innovation pack
Originally published in Ad Age by Dan Gardner and Brandon Dixon
Science fiction birthed the metaverse, which has all the potential of the genre to transform how humans relate to one another—and brands.
“Star Trek,” one of the most popular sci-fi series of all time, arguably birthed many of the technologies we enjoy today. “Telepresence” turned into Zoom. Replicators planted a seed for 3D printing. Even “warp drives,” the most sci-fi of the tech, is reportedly under development by engineers at MIT.
And what is the metaverse if not finally realizing the holodeck—Star Trek’s fictional device that uses holograms to create a realistic 3D simulation of a real or imaginary setting?
Science fiction sparks the creative interest in how technology can model new ways of being. So why are all the early brand experiments in the metaverse just replicating today's experiences in virtual reality? There are three primary reasons:
Innovation is risky
Brands say they want new ways to engage consumers, but that requires taking risks. While the desire to be innovative is pervasive across categories, many brands are unwilling to part from their tried-and-true tactics … because they have historical data that says, if they do X they will get Y. No one ever gets fired for investing more in Google. That's how we get metaverse activations that just push consumers into virtual copies of real-life activities, such as browsing big retailers in VR or toasting with fake cocktails in digital bars.
Web3 faces a knowledge and enthusiasm gap
Consumers are skeptical of the brands driving emerging technology; among younger consumers especially, domination of the metaverse by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google is a particularly offensive idea. As a result, there is still a knowledge and enthusiasm gap about the metaverse. Until a mass of general consumers gravitates enthusiastically toward the promise of the metaverse, brands won't double down on their investment.
The infrastructure is still developing
The technology doesn't exist to support the visionaries. And brands don't currently have the incentive to build it. The most exciting visions of the metaverse rely on interoperability. No matter how optimistic we are, it's a poor task to wait for that scale of cooperation across today's ecosystem of brands, technology providers and platforms in service of building out those visions.
The metaverse is an unprecedented opportunity for business innovation, not just marketing transformation. New revenue opportunities lurk in the economies springing up around virtual real estate, avatars and the blockchain. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the luxury and sports apparel sectors, which are zealously leading the charge around new models for ownership, digital assets and loyalty engagement.
Brands are lucky that they're some of the earliest of the bunch to get to play in the metaverse. They should know the canvas is as large as the knowledge and interest gap. To get consumers on board, brands must prove the value of this new dimension of experiences. They can track that value as purely monetary, and sure, brands in the throes of inflation are primarily concerned about consumers' pockets. But look at the arenas of human experience most missed during the pandemic—movies, concerts, mass experiences—these are all things that transcend commodities to offer a new way of connecting and experiencing life. This tells us there's currency in transformative experiences, in discovery and exploration, sometimes simply for exploration's sake.
And the proof is in the pudding. Other creative industries including Hollywood and the gaming sector are already building art, experiences and entertainment that look like the sci-fi visions that got generations excited about the future when they were growing up. They’re emboldened by the promise of the technology and inspired by the genre to transform. It’s frustrating to see brands begin to fall behind the pack here, producing cookie-cutter marketing ploys that are just transaction schemes extended into a digital space.
When we think about the potential for business transformation in the metaverse, it encompasses so much more than putting a shiny layer on the point of sale. There’s a real opportunity here to turn fiction into fact and build novel Web3 experiences with the potential to truly get consumers excited about the value of this grand new experiment.
We're sure the metaverse will bring some of our favorite sci-fi tech and experiences to life. Universal digital translators connected to virtual avatars could make navigating this growing “multiverse of metaverses” accessible to all. Time travel feels possible in a real-time, 3D photorealistic environment that can use the archive to replicate past experiences. And it's not a stretch to imagine the new “digital life forms” that might be generated as brands play around with virtual pets in the metaverse.
For now? Stop simply replicating things we already have and use the metaverse as a canvas to start a wholesale revision of behavior. Otherwise, why are we leaning on sci-fi for our next big business scheme in the first place if we won't take the challenge of the genre seriously?