Markets

Marketing in an alternative universe

Jones Mathew

From the 1992 novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, when the term “Metaverse” appeared for the first time to depict a three-dimensional virtual world with avatars of real human beings, to today, the dystopian idea has travelled a considerable distance. Is it an escapist world with a network of three-dimensional worlds? Or an immersive social connection platform? It appears to be a mix of both, pushed onward by developments in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technology.

Mark Zuckerberg of Meta Platforms visualises his Metaverse as the revenue source of the future. If there is revenue to be had, marketing has to be lurking somewhere close by. So who are its customers? All those who find the internet passe with its limited ability to be truly immersive. As a market offering, the value a metaverse is likely to generate for its “metizens” would be its ability to provide unprecedented immersive experiences, where it would be impossible to tell the difference between the real, the fake and the deepfake: a make-believe world of the purest form where one does not know where “real” ends and “non-real” begins. Marketers and engineers would help humans transition into this metaworld with their better-than-real-life products and seamless UI and UX interfaces.

Since there are very likely going to be issues of violation of privacy, user addiction and user safety, marketers will be busy creating products and services to counter these dangers. Hence, besides marketing fashion products and consumer goods, (un)real estate and futuristic cars, it is possible that meta-media consulting and meta-verse de-addiction services will be marketable services too. Advertising, for example, in the metaverse will be truly confusing where synthetic advertisements can be created out of absolutely nothing and the boundaries will be blurred beyond recognition.

Second Life, officially the first metaverse, debuted as far back as 2003. Videogames such as Active Worlds and Fortnite have long used metaverse like elements. Such platforms have been a haven for marketers who have been purveying everything from videogame accessories to v-gift cards. As consumer behaviour rapidly transforms due to various factors, an increasing number of people are shopping, travelling, trading, playing and socialising in the virtual world. Marketers are looking at the metaverse as the next big revenue frontier, where Gen Z customers will dominate and they represent a powerful spending cohort. Marketing suggestions for the metaverse include embedding the brand unobtrusively in the alternate world, retailing virtual goods to digital avatars, establishing a virtual brand venue and creating a slew of immersive experiences.

The future is virtual. Full-fledged metaversing may still be some distance away till 5G penetrates widely, AR/VR/MR apparatus become cheaper and governance rules are established successfully. While the traditionalists hope it’s just a passing fad, metaverse proponents are hoping it isn’t.

The author is professor, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurugram

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