For Meta or worse?

Andrea Long provides an update on the recent Facebook Meta update, and unpacks what this might mean for marketers.

With the recent breaking news of Facebook becoming Meta, I have to admit that I rolled my eyes. Mark Zuckerberg had been rabbiting on about this since June. Realising I probably needed to get over my cynicism and explore this seemingly game-changing shift, I found myself pleasantly surprised – intrigued about the future-curious approach the media magnet is taking with his company.

The next evolution of social connection

Meta, short for Metaverse, takes what was a social and advertising platform and, with the help of new technology, turns it towards an immersive virtual universe for people to “physically” congregate. It’s a cross-pollination of VR and AR; all you need is a pair of glasses.

Inside this digital world, you can game with your mates, have a business meeting, walk your pet lobster, shop in a rainforest; you name it. And with the endless possibilities of environment creation, the world can be quite literally your oyster. In the latest, rather fruity keynote update from our new Meta friends, Mark’s example was of him floating in a space station while playing poker with his buds before transporting to a jungle with flying Koi, all while taking calls. In its simplest terms, Meta is about creating, engaging, and collaborating in infinite worlds that feel both real and surreal. 

And if you think this sounds like an eccentric Mark Zuckerberg having a breakdown, well, it’s certainly a rather expensive mid-life crisis, with a cool $10 billion being dropped on it with promises of more to come.

Wait a minute…

Now, if this is starting to sound familiar, you’d be right. While Roblox scratched the surface of user-created environments, the core of this idea lives in sci-fi stories. Snow Crash (who originally coined the term ‘Metaverse’), Gamer, and Ready Player One, to name but a few explore this idea of a virtual full-body experiences that people log onto and live in. Cue the ad for the Oculus VR/AR onesie. 

Meta’s vision is in a similar vein. We’ve gone from the telephone that connected the world, to social media, to smaller screens. We’ve dabbled in VR, which the gaming and pornographic industries have best embraced. Now Meta is looking to the future, connecting people to reignite the senses once again. And while the technology still needs to be created, the bones are there. 

But is this really such a big shift? We are living a significant portion of our time online right now. Whether it’s consuming video, listening to podcasts, gaming, buying products, chatting with friends, in this context, this shift isn’t that dramatic. 

You, the ‘human’, upgraded

For social networking and gaming, avatars and personalisation have become key components. While currently, Zoom calls enable you to change your backgrounds, and Snap Camera has customised filters to allow you to be ‘your best you’, this is not just a 2D moment behind a screen. Meta is proposing a world where you can change outfits, buy new clothes, become something else, change your hair, change your eyes, fly around the room. You could be a vibrant, slick agency person working a business pitch, all while sitting in your underpants. 

This is not outside the realms of current reality – with companies like 8i leading the way in the capture, transformation, and streaming of holograms – the smarts are already there. And there is some fantastic technology in development which will help further enhance the 4D experience. 

As much as the luddite in me continues to fear cryptocurrency, it will undoubtedly be a central source of value exchange. Businesses will need to rethink their economies in the real and virtual world, and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) will become more important as part of this space.

So what does it mean for marketers and agencies?

Of course, none of this is readily available now, and you’re not going to see Facebook disappear just yet.  

“Our hope is that, if we all work at it, then within the next decade the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” Mark told Connect 2021 attendees.

This ambitious mission statement means marketers and agencies alike will need to consider how their customers and themselves will be engaging with social media in the next ten years. Creativity could shift from big brand shoots to swarms of innovative development teams reimagining your brand in a virtual space. But despite this, story-telling will remain ever-present, with imagination the only way to cut through. 

Andrea Long.

If you’re hungry to get a taste of this experience today, the closest you can come right now lies in the gaming industry.

“Gaming is how a lot of people are going to step into the metaverse for the first time. It already has some of the most fully built out digital goods and the most active creator and developer communities,” Mark continued.

Personally, I have questions on whether Facebook is the right company to be doing this. Regardless, they are investing big and clearly believe in this vision of the future. So while all this pushes us forward, what can we ask ourselves now to prepare for the future?

People endlessly seek to be entertained – whether it’s in the real or virtual world. What is your brand doing to make someone smile, laugh or feel rewarded just by engaging with you?

The human experience can’t be forgotten. Meta has realised how impersonal and anonymous Facebook has become, so is seeking to bring back expression, senses, and replication of being with someone in the physical world. What are you doing to add to the personal experience and connect with your customers? 

What could this future world mean for the consumer journey? If the idea of Meta is frightening you, what are you currently doing with your digital marketing journey? If your agency is still sifting around on GDN, we should talk.

Invest in creativity – New Zealand has some of the best creative talents globally, and in an ever disruptive digital and virtual world, cutting through by captivating the emotions and imagination of your audience is fundamental.  

This article was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2021 issue of NZ Marketing magazine.

About Andrea Long

Andrea Long is Head of Media at independent agency YoungShand.

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