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I was surprised to find out how many peers and friends had been gifted the Oculus over the holidays. In 2021, when Meta rebranded the popular CR headset to Quest 2, they hit a benchmark of 10 million units sold. As a creative storyteller, I’m excited about the spread of the metaverse and the marketing opportunities that it could present. Still, I find the speed at which people are adapting to this lifestyle mesmerizing.
This isn’t the first time that an alternative digital-based world has attempted to take off. We experienced a similar sensation when the then-popular, Second Life, launched in the early 2000s. And while Second Life technically still exists, it has certainly lost its luster, its promise. So why won’t the metaverse just become another Second Life? And, what makes it the perfect time in society for the metaverse to take off and become a world of its own?
One obvious answer is technology. At the inception of Second Life, technology simply was not where it is today and social media use was less widespread. At its launch in 2003, only 9.7% of the world was using the internet, compared to a whopping 65% today. Many companies didn’t have a social presence in 2003, much less the bandwidth, knowledge, and resources to integrate themselves into this social-forward, complicated virtual world. As a Creative Director in the space for the last 29 years, I hadn’t started creating for social media until it started taking off about a decade ago.
A pandemic: Ultra-convenience and forced isolation
The pandemic has set the perfect stage for the metaverse to take off. It has created a society where social anxiety is on the rise and the desire for convenience is at an all-time high. We as a society have become accustomed to being alone because of the prolonged periods of isolation that COVID-19 has forced us into. Some of us, speaking from personal experience, have found solace in the silence and have turned inward to uncover the introverted parts of ourselves. The metaverse is, by design, meant to be used in isolation. You don’t need other people physically present when putting on a headset to travel the world or hang out at a virtual bar.
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The pandemic has caused us to value convenience now more than ever before. We turn to our TV screens for instant entertainment, our phones for fast delivery, and our computers for quick check-ins with the boss. Droves of offices are downsizing, physical storefronts are closing, Uber Eats is bringing food to our doorsteps, making it virtually pointless to leave our homes.
A craving for social connection
The one truth that hasn’t changed is that we, at our core, are social beings. People need social connection to stay emotionally well.
Enter the metaverse: a tool that provides emotional connection and convenience without needing to leave your physical space. Where you don’t need to wait in security lines, pack a bag and board a plane to attend your next work event. A place where your next client meeting can be a casual walk in the Alps or your next brainstorm about a pop-up shop can take place right in Times Square. Your ideas are only limited by your imagination. How convenient.
The virtual gaming world has shown us that the way we advertise in this new world is by plastering sponsorships on walls and billboards. But that answer is 2D. How can brands take advantage of this new virtual world and elevate brand advertisements into brand experiences?
In the metaverse, consumers can live within the brand instead of being spectators of it. Imagine living among brand avatars, or entering a branded nightclub. In December of 2021, Disney announced that it filed for a patent to create the first-ever 3D theme park. Gucci has also taken to the virtual world by partnering with Roblox to release a “Gucci Garden,” where avatars can wander through different rooms and each visitor’s mannequin can “absorb elements of the exhibition.” The yoga brand, Alo, created an “Alo Sanctuary” where users could do yoga and meditation in a relaxing tropical setting. Consumers crave escapism. So the idea of a headset taking us from our four walls to a universe of endless possibilities is becoming more and more appealing.
Of course, there’s still so much for the metaverse to figure out. How do we introduce more everyday users into the metaverse, not just those already engraved in the tech industry? How do we make the metaverse an equitable experience for all people, age groups, ethnicities, etc.? (Components of the metaverse like the blockchain, NFTs, and crypto have been heavily gatekept by an in-group of largely wealthier, often-men). These questions will be the true test as to whether this metaverse has staying power.
At the end of the day though, the need for connection prevails. The appeal of convenience persists. The lure of the sweatpants workforce is now. And I believe, the metaverse will prosper.
Jeff Berg is creative director at Haberman.
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