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An immersive art installation titled "Machine Hallucinations - Space: Metaverse" by media artist Refik Anadol. Picture: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
An immersive art installation titled "Machine Hallucinations - Space: Metaverse" by media artist Refik Anadol. Picture: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

These days we don’t give a second thought to video calls on our phones or entering “other” worlds as avatars to entertain ourselves, all while calling out to Siri or Alexa to help us in our daily grind. Technology has certainly enhanced our lives in so many ways. This is a good thing, right? Well, mostly.

The intended function of progress is to make our lives easier and more enjoyable – think of map apps on our phones to help us get places instead of paging through cumbersome map books.

These apps seamlessly integrate into our lives and enhance our daily experiences, by (sticking with the map example) suggesting faster, less congested or scenic routes, pointing out places of interest along the way, like fuel stations, restaurants or retailers, all based on your profile. Mindfulness, dating, shopping, weather and banking are just a few of the areas of our lives that are enhanced through progress and technology.

Where I become uncomfortable is when progress and tech remove people from the value chain, especially when they are not replaced by related parallel jobs. Jobs provide purpose and self-worth, even before the financial benefits. We are creating a world where droves of people will have nothing to do. Or will they?

And then along comes the metaverse – think The Matrix but before the revolution and without the emotionless baddies wearing sunglasses chasing us around with guns.

The metaverse is being touted as a comfort zone where we plug into a virtual world to live the life we don’t have out here in the real world. You can create an avatar of yourself – bigger, better, stronger, prettier, sexier, whatever.

All our failings can disappear and be replaced essentially by who we are on Tinder. It is the evolution of social media, moving from a projection of the perfect life to the immersion into the perfect life.

We will seamlessly move from social to work spaces, changing our clothes and hairstyles or gender and even species as we go along. I could go on about the philosophical and ethical ramifications of all of this, but since this is a piece on marketing, another day perhaps.

In essence, the metaverse is the convergence of several technologies such as social media, cryptocurrency, the blockchain, gaming, artificial intelligence (AI) and nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

Online gaming has been immersive for some time now, with characters or avatars representing us while we run around being great (or not), swapping out weapons, outfits or skins to suit the requirement. It became social by nature as friends and strangers alike meet in these virtual worlds and either compete against each other or team up against a common adversary. Gamers would buy and trade in items to enhance their experience, often in game-specific currency (bought via credit card), and so cryptocurrencies entered this world seamlessly.

As brands wanted in, gamevertising became a thing as we started advertising to people in their game lives. This has rapidly evolved to include NFTs as brands and celebs introduce these into the game experience. AI helps continuously evolve these worlds so that no experience is ever the same, to keep us coming back for more.

Enter Meta. Meta is the new holding company for the global ad network posing as social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, and messaging apps Messenger and WhatsApp. If you have a free hour or so, you can watch the launch video here.

By levelling up like this, Mark Zuckerberg and Co can provide the springboard for more platforms, like Spark AR and the gaming team at Quest, to create jobs and earn money (much like Google did with Alphabet).

Zuck is already imagining an entire economy that can sustain those that build and maintain the metaverse. Resistance is futile – we will all spend some time in the metaverse, even if it is to catch up with your kids living in another country (currently the prime reason for Facebook’s success with baby boomers).

To answer my own question on whether marketers should be taking the metaverse seriously, the answer is a resounding yes. Not that I want to – in my mind the physical world needs our attention.

Much like we are obsessed with going to and colonising Mars when we should be sorting out our sh*t out here on Mother Earth, we should be creating real-world experiences that allow us to be who we are.

We are wonderful beings, filled with emotions, intelligence, yearning, curiosity and the gift of communication. We should embrace our flaws, use our strengths and be kind.

However, as the human race we are infatuated with the latest shiny thing and marketers are making sure we serve it up to as many consumers as possible. A sizable audience will spend their time and money inside the metaverse. On this premise alone, marketers need to be monitoring this seriously.

For just how long, I don’t know. The world wide web was initially funded by companies and they controlled the narrative. Web 2.0 was driven by the users and funded by advertising, but advertising was intrusive and has been rejected by the current generation. Web 3.0 will likely be driven and funded by users with brands participating by invitation only.

If marketers and their brands can partner with the builders of the metaverse in a considerate and meaningful way, they could secure their role in the ecosystem.

Andre Steenekamp is the director of strategy at Mark1, the digital division of DUKE. 

The big take-out:

A sizable audience will spend their time and money inside the metaverse which means marketers need to be taking it seriously. 

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