If brands paper the metaverse with ads, they'll have blown it, according to GroupM futurist Jane Lacher.
The word "metaverse" is on a lot of lips lately, but so far only the world's big brands, and the agencies that are charged with keeping them ahead of the digital media curve, are putting the money where their mouths are. The metaverse is a slippery form of media: a spatial, immersive set of virtual worlds that may have some connection to real products in the real world. There's no playbook yet for how brands navigate that with aplomb, and no guarantee of avoiding ham-fistedness.
"The floodgates opened up on Jan. 1," says Jane Lacher, head of growth for GroupM. It's one of the largest media agencies in the world, and it counts Ford, Google, Coca-Cola and Unilever among its clients. CES 2022 was a coming out party for the metaverse, she says, thanks to the announcement just two months prior that Facebook would rename itself Meta as it pivoted toward the metaverse. "Every fifth email or inquiry [from brands] is 'what's the metaverse, do I need to be there?'"
While the question is simple and direct, the answer is more nuanced. "It's going to be big and niche at the same time," says Lacher. "Niche in that it's a virtual experience in virtual worlds, big in that you have an entire generation who in a decade are going to be virtual-first consumers."
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Lacher says she's watching to see how much and how quickly VR headgear is accepted by that generation. Will it become their vehicle to metaverse worlds? Or will the majority of engagement remain on 2D tablets, phones and laptops?
The question for brands isn't whether to get engaged in metaverse worlds but when and how. "The last thing a brand wants to do is create a bad experience on one of these [metaverse] platforms and just be there as an advertiser," says Lacher. "The rules of engagement haven't changed when it comes to the necessity to create value for consumers, and in this territory it's more important than anywhere else."
She cites Nike's entry on Roblox and Gucci's even edgier moves into NFT expressions of its brand as examples that at least partly show the way. Gucci's designs for limited-run virtual characters on NFT platform Superplastic would probably strain credulity with most people who buy its products in the real world. But she says they're an early sign of a savvy virtual product offering by a major brand.
Metaverse worlds may be won over by the best movers, not necessarily the first movers. The next two or even three years will likely be a time for exploration by brands. "Where does being on the metaverse look for you," says Lacher putting an apropos twist on the typical "what" in that question. "How you're going to measure it is going to be longer term, it's going to be more emotional."
Watch the video here, in which Jane Lacher shares more early insights about the metaverse for brands with CNET's Brian Cooley.