Marketing Briefing: Marketers are going all in on metaverse marketing, but is it premature?

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

In recent months, marketers have seemed to be more and more bullish on the metaverse. Pitches for various metaverse activations — some with in-person extensions — have been consistent as marketers seem to be hoping to garner headlines for simply having brand activations in the metaverse, agency execs told Digiday.

Marketers are always looking to be part of the next big thing, whatever that may be, so experimentation makes sense. That being said, it’s still unclear if the metaverse will actually become that next big thing or be yet another quick fad that marketers were once pouring cash into a la apps like Clubhouse or Peach or technologies like chatbots or AR and VR. (Remember a few years ago agencies were so bullish on VR as the next big thing that they were eating the costs of testing it out for clients?)

Some agency execs question the purpose of metaverse marketing, wondering what problem it solves for marketers as well as the audience. Others say it’s already giving marketers access to audiences they wouldn’t be able to interact with without it and that it’s worth continuing to test out various activations even if the audience isn’t there yet.

“The fact that nobody can agree on what the metaverse actually is is a good sign that the pressure to be there is more about FOMO than about common sense,” said Mark Pytlik, CEO, Stink Studios, when asked about the future of metaverse marketing. “Marketers need an audience to market to, but the ‘metaverse’ is so fractured and so platform-dependent that there’s no critical mass of consumers in any one place to really merit serious long-term investment from most brands.”

Pytlik continued to say that some of the metaverse activations feel like a bid for “quick PR” but even that has “diminishing returns.” “So much of it feels like pure hype and PR and speculation,” he said.

The possibility of PR or being the first brand to do something can sway some marketers to experiment with trends and spend on apps that make little sense in actuality for their brands. Take the metaverse — it’s still unclear if the audience will grow to make it into a marketing budget staple.

To get contextualize the popularity of these technologies, Sarah Stringer, evp and head of US media partnerships at dentsu, turns to Google Trends, which provides public data on what terms users are searching for.

As examples, she said, VR peaked in interest in Dec. 2016, blockchain a year later, e-sports in 2019 and metaverse at the end of 2021. Even if the Google Trend data shows a downtrend, marketing efforts for the metaverse still seem to be on an upswing as brands continue to pitch new efforts.

“All these technologies and concepts are building to bigger trends over time, however interest wanes when scale and audience don’t follow,” Stringer said. “We see interest remerge when opportunities evolve and the technology becomes more scaled and accessible. Metaverse became a hot buzzword, which feels like it’s being quickly replaced by broader conversations around Web3.0.”

The metaverse has recently motivated some marketers to experiment with AR and VR again. Maybe the years and years of marketers and agency execs touting AR and VR as the next big thing were just a few years too early? Or maybe agency execs are trying to spin it that way to make those experiments worthy of their time? Time will tell.

“The criticism that the metaverse is Emperor’s new clothes version of Second Life is a reasonable one, but it ignores some fundamental factors that make this new era potentially as important in changing the landscape for marketers as the emergence of TV or the open internet,” said Berlin Cameron, Founder, Ewen Cameron.

Cameron continued: “Blockchain technology and the tokenization of assets that are built on it, creates the potential for customization and personalization of marketing on a scale we’ve never seen before in history.”

Even as Cameron is bullish on the possibilities of the metaverse — and NFTs and Web3 — for marketers he recognizes the metaverse in its current form may not deliver the needed return on investment for all marketers. 

“Today the metrics of Decentraland may only make sense in ROI if your target audience is teenage males with a propensity for fantasy gaming,” said Cameron. “However, the applications of blockchain technology, Web3 and the metaverse offer endless possibilities for brands. These technologies help marketers find new, breakthrough pathways to awareness and engagement before and better than their competition, which is what good marketing is all about.”

3 Questions with Weedmaps CMO Juanjo Feijoo

How are you thinking about marketing and advertising as legalization efforts come down the pipeline?

A lot of people are starting to discover cannabis. We spent, especially the last two years, a lot of time trying to build our brand in a more mainstream way for people who aren’t as comfortable with cannabis. A hardcore consumer might be very intentionally looking for a specific type of concentrate that’s done a certain way, from a certain strain, whereas your more casual consumer might be [less knowledgable.] How do you serve to both those audiences and speak to them? That’s been a lot of the balancing act that we’ve been doing over the last couple of years. 

What strategies have you used to achieve that balancing act? 

On the marketing side, what we’ve done is figure out where we need to show up. We really try to find areas where we can in some ways be more transactional and more sophisticated with our consumers, but at the same time make it something that’s very approachable from a discovery perspective for newer consumers coming into the space. 

How do you achieve a mainstream audience being a more niche brand?

It’s definitely about levers. Our levers are inevitably restricted by who will take cannabis advertising and the censorship that still happens around it. We’re very fortunate that we’re not a plant-touching business, right? Because we’re just technology which means we get a lot of publishers or partners that are more comfortable with working with us. We do a lot of activations; we were at a lot of festivals last year as things were coming back from COVID. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

At the height of the pandemic, women bore the brunt of home life duties which lead to the phenomenon of the so-called “shecession.” Now, as what’s being called the Great Resignation looms, companies are rolling out various perks to attract and retain talent. To understand what it’ll take to get women back in the workplace, DE&I consultancy Have Her Back conducted the Women in the Workplace study, which was provided exclusively to Digiday. Find details from the report below:

  • 79% of survey respondents said they prefer flexible work environments, defined as “the ability to make your own arrangements, as needed,” as opposed to hybrid work environments, defined as “working scheduled days on-site and some off-site.”
  • 33% of respondents reported that they prefer working remotely five days per week.
  • 43% of those surveyed said they have the ability and feel comfortable taking family leave without fear of retribution. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“To a lot of younger people, there’s no such thing as esports; it’s all just video games.”

— Rob Moore, CEO of esports organization Sentinels Gaming, on the difference between gaming and esports.

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