Technological change tends to create opportunities and challenges for brands and agencies in equal parts.
Just look at how digital media has up-ended the way marketers communicate with consumers. As of 2020, more than half of all advertising revenue is spent online.
The evolution of the web, therefore, is of great importance to the advertising industry. The dawn of its latest iteration, known as “web3.0,” via related components such as the “metaverse,” have become a heated discussion in the marketing community. That’s due, in part, to one of the most influential digital entities, Facebook, changing its name to Meta, signaling deep aspirations in this future vision of the web.
The metaverse is a difficult topic to grasp simply because it doesn’t exist, despite the occasional hyperbolic statement to the contrary. It’s not an entity or a thing, neither physical nor digital. It’s an idea built around less demarcation between our physical and digital selves.
Gaming presents an important opportunity for marketers to prepare for the metaverse, so they aren’t caught flat-footed as they were with the dawn of “web2.0.” This opportunity, however, is being ignored because of how far the metaverse conversation has extended beyond gaming.
The early days of the internet (“web1.0”) were challenging for marketers, although interactions with consumers were not remarkably different than those in the non-digital world: Messages were fed to consumers via web pages, not too dissimilar to print.
Web2.0, characterized by social media and user-generated content, changed this relationship. Brands suddenly had to converse with consumers. Many were quick to adapt, while others struggled with no longer having full control over their messages.
Web3.0 presents another shift in the consumer-brand relationship. Out of many characteristics used to describe web3.0, “decentralized” is often the most prevalent. As it pertains to the metaverse, it describes an internet that is deeply immersive and participatory. It means that as web3.0 takes shape, brands will evolve from being conversational to creating virtual experiences in environments not entirely under their control.
That is a significantly larger shift. The good news is, there are two factors working in favor of forward-thinking brands and agencies. First, an idea as complex as the metaverse is almost certainly decades away. Second, there are already innumerable opportunities to test and create marketing experiences in virtual, immersive and participatory spaces. All of these aspects exist within gaming.
The discussion around gaming, which heated up during COVID-19 as people looked for social interaction, coupled with enthusiasm around blockchain, has created fertile soil for an idea like the metaverse. Networked virtual worlds have been the domain of gaming as far back as the late-70s. Yet, the marketing conversation has leap-frogged gaming to chase the possibilities of the metaverse, presumably in fear of being caught unprepared. This is a mistake. Opportunities to learn about virtual worlds should not be squandered.
Good gaming marketing does not break immersion within a game environment. Anything that reminds players of the world outside disrupts that immersion. More direct intrusions can be potentially excused if it yields value in the game experience (e.g. a reward). A sophisticated understanding of how marketing can aid or break immersion in virtual environments will be foundational to marketing in virtual worlds. The current state of game advertising provides the best ecosystem for learning about these relationships.
For each iteration of the web, there has been an iteration in marketing. Web3.0 portends Marketing 3.0, where brands and agencies move beyond dialogue with consumers to immersive, virtual interaction. The most successful brands will not be those attempting to wrangle an amorphous set of ideas, but rather those that capitalize on the opportunities in front of them to formulate strategies, practices and measurement.
The advertising world has long turned a blind eye towards gaming. What is at stake now is not just reaching elusive audiences, but tapping into a test bed for the future of the internet.
Jonathan Stringfield, PhD is a gaming, marketing and research executive at Activision Blizzard. This column first appeared on campaignlive.com.