In classic storytelling, every great hero has a tragic character flaw—their hamartia. MacBeth’s ambition, Oedipus’ pride, Romeo’s impulsivity, and even Piglet’s anxiety in Winnie the Pooh.
Well, the metaverse, marketing’s current main character, has three. Whether it will be the hero or villain of our industry’s story, that’s still to be determined.
An extraordinary $120 billion was invested in metaverse technology and infrastructure last year. But it still has a lot of work to do to become a staple in the average person’s daily life. An over-reliance on wearables, lack of social status, and uncertainty regarding identity are the three fatal flaws of today’s version. As a result, it is not currently a viable or necessary advertising channel for the vast majority of brands.
Let’s explore why these flaws exist and what needs to change for it to gain a long-lasting spot at marketing’s roundtable.
It’s Over-Reliant on Overpriced Wearables
There has to be some substance to back up all the attention and investment it is receiving. right? Well, according to Capgemini Research Institute, 93% of consumers are curious about it. However, curiosity doesn’t directly translate to action when there are substantial barriers to entry. Fifty-one percent of these curious consumers said they “would use the it as it becomes more accessible to them.”
Why isn’t it accessible yet? There is too much emphasis on wearables, namely AR/VR headsets and devices. The fully immersive experiences these devices offer are outweighed by their consumer adoption hurdles. XR wearables are simply too expensive and clunky to generate mainstream demand.
In particular, when cost of living is at an all-time high, people don’t want a $1,500 Quest Pro. They want to cover their ever-increasing grocery bill and are likely allocating any tech splurges towards paying off the new iPhone.
Even the technology giants seem to be admitting this flaw. From Meta laying off its Reality Labs AR/VR development division to Microsoft laying off its HoloLens unit, the wearable tech market appears to be in a downward spiral.
With consumer buy-in still slow to take hold, the juice is simply not worth the squeeze for most brands.
It Lacks Social Status
As it stands, the metaverse needs another tsunami wave of consumer adoption to become a standard in daily life. To gain momentum, it needs to be easily accessible, understandable, and practical—at the bare minimum.
Only 15% of people have a strong enough understanding of it to explain it to someone, per a Wunderman Thompson survey. That’s a major red flag.
Beyond basic practicality, consumer entertainment is even more critical to it gaining social status. Utilitarian Web3 applications, such as blockchain finance and digital wallets, may offer more pragmatic value but also require substantial knowledge, trust, and investment.
On the other hand, gaming and social media scrolling are among the top of consumers’ favorite pastimes. This is why social gaming (think Fortnite, Animal Crossing, and Roblox) is carrying the lion’s share of time spent in the metaverse.
To expand beyond gaming, metaverse spaces need to offer an entertaining social experience with forums for genuine human connection. Meta-tech offers immense potential to reimagine a new, immersive type of social media and social entertainment. Take a look at past social platform disruptors.
MySpace redefined how people could connect online. Vine offered a fresh, short-form entertainment medium. BeReal created a space to share authentic snapshots of daily life.
If consumers ever start spending as much time as they do on TikTok, brands will most certainly need serious metaverse marketing plans. But for that to happen, it needs to earn a higher social status through convenience, entertainment, and human connection.
It Has an Identity Crisis
In the metaverse, people can create a virtual identity, build and explore alternate worlds, and invite others to engage with them in these spaces. The question is: will Web3 be entirely anonymous? Or will it be a transparent arena where you know the person whose avatar you are interacting with? In other words, will Web3 just be a haven for internet trolls? Or will businesses and individuals alike be entirely open books?
In my opinion, virtual avatars need to be attached to real personal identities. This will make or break the metaverse in terms of being a place for social community and a brand-safe marketing channel. Think about the contrast between Twitter and LinkedIn. On LinkedIn, you are responsible for what you say. You’re publicly declaring your identity – with your resume attached. On Twitter, anything goes. Your public profile can easily contain zero personally-identifiable information. Hence, Twitter’s rampant bot problem.
Anonymity and accountability are closely intertwined. If it becomes anonymous, there’s going to be harassment without accountability. And people are sensing this potential danger; surveyed adults listed ‘trolling and harassment’ along with ‘censorship and misinformation’ as two of the top concerns. Accountability for personal identity will be one of the biggest defining factors for or against metaverse marketing.
Is Metaverse the Red Light District of the Internet?
The major players backing the metaverse and Web3 advancements have a hefty task of working through these fatal flaws. Brands inherently want to show up in innovative, culturally-relevant places—even if they’re a little PG-13 (that’s just the internet, after all).
However, there has to be some accountability for actions. Will Web3 just be a haven for internet trolls? Or will businesses need to be entirely transparent and have their books open? Anonymity and accountability are closely intertwined.
You certainly don’t want your logo plastered in a place breeding hate, distrust, misinformation, and even cybercrime. This leaves me asking—will the metaverse be the red light district of the internet or a place for virtual escapism and community building? I don’t know which version will unfold, but proceed with caution before you give the green light to metaverse marketing.