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Look beyond the fun and shiny and make sure the metaverse has meaningful impact

By Marek Wrobel

January 19, 2022 | 7 min read

The metaverse gives marketers so much to get excited about. As they go about helping to shape the space, however, they need to make sure it really does improve people’s lives, writes Marek Wrobel as part of The Drum’s Metaverse Deep Dive.​

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Exactly how revolutionary will the metaverse be for the public?

Metaverse, the M-word, it’s everywhere. After picking up steam over the last few years, the term has taken over the world – even though we don’t really know what it is or what it will be.

Matthew Ball of venture-capital company Epyllion advised us not to expect “a single, all-illuminating definition … especially not at a time in which the metaverse has only just begun to emerge” and tech analyst Benedict Evans went as far as stating that the metaverse “doesn’t really exist as more than a label on a whiteboard”.

However, this has not stopped the hype train – just take a look at this brilliant Twitter thread from VR veteran Nima Zeighami highlighting some of the more ridiculous metaverse use-cases at this year’s CES.

However, in all this noise I feel like we’re forgetting about another important M-word – meaningfulness.

We can’t afford to forget about meaningfulness as, in its most ambitious form, the metaverse is supposed to be the new iteration of the internet. Think how revolutionary and important this is! So, while a lot has been said about how the metaverse will be the new social media, commerce platform and advertising channel, to create value in people’s lives and not only in boardrooms it needs to be… more. More than media, more than gaming, more than any given emerging technology. It needs to be an integral part of our lives – the exciting and fun bits and those more mundane – and become a place where we have fun but also learn, express ourselves or work.

Learning the lessons

The relationship between technology and education is ever-evolving, however the goal remains the same: to keep students engaged and to find ways to make the curriculum more resonant, personalized and meaningful.

The metaverse can be extremely helpful in achieving this as most likely children will be the first to embrace it and will therefore expect elements of it to appear as part of their education. This is something some educators have already realized, looking to gaming, AR or VR to get children more engaged.

In one case scientists decided to leverage the popularity of Fortnite and created a ClimateFortnite Twitch channel with the audio commentary dealing not just with Fortnite strategies and tips, but also with the consequences of our changing planet.

Taking a virtual stand

Given that the metaverse is a virtual environment (or at least one that blends virtual elements with the real world), it’s no surprise that avatars, virtual fashions and virtual goods have all been a major focus lately – if you don’t believe me, hopefully you’ll believe Reese Witherspoon.

However, while Snapchat launching an avatar lens, the meteoric rise of Ready Player Me or a virtual version of a product being sold for more than an actual product are all fascinating stories, how we will look in the metaverse is just a small part of how we will create our digital identity.

Our identity is about our values and what we believe in. So, in the same way that the internet changed how we express ourselves, the metaverse should too. We have already had a glimpse of how this might look. Reporters Without Borders built the Uncensored Library in Minecraft in order to bypass internet censorship but also to provide access to information in a more immersive and interactive manner.

The metaverse may also transform the meaning of ‘armchair activism’ with the emergence of virtual protests. Over the last few years, we’ve seen activists from Hong Kong launch a protest in Animal Crossing, Black Lives Matter rallies in The Sims and World of Warcraft players staging a sit-in protest in-game rather on the streets.

Making it work

The world of work has gone through a massive transformation over the last couple of years and it really does seem there is no going back. According to Transport for London, the number of trips by public or private transport by 2031 could be 14% below its previous prediction due to a shift to more hybrid way of working.

Of course, the internet and the ability to connect from almost anywhere was crucial in keeping the economy going. However, it’s becoming more and more clear that the WFH revolution had some obvious benefits but also some drawbacks. Research conducted by O2 pointed to insufficient technology being the main drain on productivity; brain science was used to show that remote work and video meetings actually tax our brain more than in-person work; and, finally, Microsoft found that changes in our working patterns may reduce our outputs. So even if you enjoy more flexible, more output-focused working environments, it’s clear that the current set-up is far from optimal.

Luckily, the metaverse may just be the answer we’ve been looking for. The idea of a virtual, always-on, interactive world opens up completely new ways of connecting, exchanging ideas and simply working together – both remotely and in-person. And I don’t just mean shifting meetings from video to VR but changes in working patterns comparable to how, for example, email – for better or worse – has completely transformed how we’ve conducted business over the last few decades.

The metaverse is a fascinating concept and there is already so much to get excited about from a marketer’s perspective – these individuals will be shaping it as well. However, if it really is to become a new version of the internet, we have the responsibility to look beyond the surface, beyond the fun and shiny, and make sure it will change and improve people’s lives, creating value and having a meaningful impact.

Marek Wrobel is head of media futures at Havas Media Group and author of The Drum’s Media Innovation Round-Up column.

For more on the exciting, new opportunities for marketers in this rapidly evolving space, check out The Drum’s Metaverse hub.

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