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A Giant Leap For Advertising Kind: How The Metaverse Could Lead To A Next-Gen Brand Experience

May 16, 2022

Ben is CGO at GumGum , responsible for the company's global sales, planning and marketing.

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The metaverse is to digital advertising what smartphones were to the internet. Sure, a lot of clever ideas existed pre-2007, but the iPhone launch sparked a fundamental shift in human behavior and the infinite tide of new brand opportunities that came with it. Similarly, the rapid evolution of the metaverse—a perpetual network of 3D virtual worlds facilitating social connection—indicates that the enthusiasm around this exciting, but still somewhat abstract sphere is more than just tech buzz.

As Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney points out: “The next three years are going to be critical for all of the metaverse-aspiring companies like Epic, Roblox, Microsoft, Facebook. It’s kind of a race to get to [...] the presumed leader in setting the standards.”

This sprint is just as crucial for advertisers as it is for gaming and tech giants. As quick-off-the-mark adopters such as Nike and Gucci have indicated, now is a pivotal time for sketching out the ad boundaries of this brave new world—and the interoperability of platforms within it. I believe it’s gaming, above all, that offers a gateway in.

All Aboard The Gaming Curve

The metaverse can be a frustratingly difficult concept to pin down, but a simplified approach is to think of it as the internet being reinvented by game developers. From Minecraft to Roblox, some of the industry’s most lucrative gaming platforms already exist on the periphery of the metaverse, with huge global networks, elements such as VR interfaces, digital ownership and avatars that represent actual people. And so it’s no surprise that they’re leading the charge when it comes to shaping the metaverse as a new frontier of digital experience.

If advertisers want a head start on wide-ranging metaverse inventory as it’s being developed, they need only follow the trail of these gaming pioneers. With more than 350 million Fortnite monthly active users and 141 million monthly active users on Minecraft, along with a clear skew toward Gen Z audiences, the video gaming space holds unparalleled potential for marketers.

Yet, building successful brand partnerships in metaverse gaming is going to be far from straightforward. Within such immersive environments, the potential for advertising to become disruptive and rejected by users is huge. Just look at the anger that erupted over NBA 2K19’s unskippable ads, active across multiple platforms, in 2019.

A New Caliber Of User Experience

If brands are to play a credible role in the metaverse, a new approach will be required that prioritizes creativity and the user experience above all else. If the metaverse is the internet being developed by game developers, then advertisers will need to think like game developers too if they are to create genuinely captivating ad experiences that offer value to audiences.

The development of advertising in gaming is still at an early stage. But already, there are some pioneering examples that offer a vision of how ads could look and feel in the metaverse. Take Air Jordan’s partnership with Fortnite, where players were able to compete in tournaments to win the brand’s XI Cool Grey sneakers, test out their skills on virtual basketball courts, view branded videos and explore a virtual Air Jordan museum. It’s this more ambitious and immersive approach to advertising that will likely have the greatest impact within metaverse environments.

Many brands are barely thinking about advertising in gaming, let alone the metaverse, so preparing for this next-gen brand experience will require a considerable shift in strategy. As an industry, we will have to become much braver and willing to experiment with new approaches that push the creative envelope. Creative processes and brand storytelling will need to become much more dynamic and fluid to match such a fast-moving and multidimensional environment.

Finding The Right Audiences

Advertisers will also need to adopt very different strategies for targeting relevant audiences in the metaverse. Traditional behavioral-based targeting is already struggling because of the death of the third-party cookie. But within the fast-moving metaverse, targeting someone based on past behavior will make even less sense. Instead, advertisers will need to find ways to find the right audiences based on the content they are interacting with and their mindset in that exact moment. And this is where contextual targeting can play an important role.

With contextual advertising, messages can resonate with the environment itself and, when combined with captivating creatives and immersive gaming-style experiences, these ads could deliver the kind of value that users demand from brands. For example, imagine a virtual football game, complete with digital billboards and banners around the arena. A sports apparel brand could create banners that players are actually able to enter and access virtual stores with fitting rooms, where a player’s avatar could try on reduced and newly-launched sportswear.

In the future, contextual AI will be essential in scanning live environments and serving ads that perfectly match any experience or scenario within the metaverse. Advertisers should consider whether they or their partners have the necessary skills to tap into these opportunities.

The digital ad landscape is undergoing enormous change, but the emerging metaverse is a cue for brands to reach further. With the onset of privacy-first advertising, marketers can use the metaverse to flex their creative muscles in a lucrative new space, on the mantle of fluid and compelling ad experiences that match the gaming world’s pioneering spirit. With metaverse real estate surging, the time to act is now.

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