This Week in the Metaverse: Meta's odd Super Bowl ad, Samsung's V-Day stunt heartbreak
Things are moving fast in the metaverse. Depending on who you speak to, this futuristic virtual world is either the next big thing in marketing or an overhyped fad. Here’s what you need to know from this past week:
Grab your virtual party hats, Miller Lite's virtual bar is now open
Meta unveils its ad for Super Bowl LVI, and it’s unsettling
Meta (previously Facebook) unveiled its Super Bowl LVI ad earlier this week. Several words come to mind that we might use to describe the 60-second spot, which is titled “Old friends, new fun.” Confusing is one of them. Unsettling is another. Here’s the gist of the plotline: a band of oversized, animatronic animals is performing “Don’t you (forget about me)” by Simple Minds in an 80s-looking arcade. One day they’re retired, and we follow the lead singer — a robotic dog — as it embarks on an ill-fated journey leading it at various points to a pawn shop, the side of a highway, a garbage disposal facility, and then ultimately to the Bosworth Space Center, where it’s assigned the undignified job of holding a sign and pointing guests in the direction of the “Space Cafe.” One day, a guest using Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 in a cordoned-off area decides to place the goggles on the dog before leaving the building. Voilà, it’s transported into the metaverse, wherein it encounters its long-lost bandmates and once again performs the same hit song for a crowd of happy-looking avatars. It isn’t clear exactly what the moral of this story is supposed to be, though one is left with the impression that Meta is painting “the real world” as tired and decrepit, while simultaneously presenting the metaverse as a land of vitality and opportunity. The ad also doesn’t do much to help clarify what the metaverse is or how it will be used — two common points of confusion that could be preventing some people from embracing the new technologies. Comments about the new ad, posted on various YouTube channels, are about as varied as opinions about Meta itself. “Scary and also cute. Perfect,” wrote one viewer. “The metaverse is going to destroy society…” wrote another.
Key takeaway: It’s a complicated moment for Meta. Its stock price has cratered as it navigates a major rebrand. It needs to position itself as a fun, hip, trustworthy, and forward-facing brand — no small task, considering its history — while simultaneously delivering on its implicit promise to be the primary pioneering architect of VR and the metaverse. While it’s first big ad as Meta is something of a head-scratcher, ultimately it will be up to Super Bowl viewers to decide what they think. That could be as interesting as the outcome of the game itself.
Miller Lite’s virtual bar opens for business, and it seems a bit too familiar
Didn’t get a chance to check out Miller Lite’s virtual bar yet? Here’s what you missed: When your avatar is dropped in Decentraland — where the bar, named “Meta Lite,” is hosted — you’ll spend a moment or two getting used to the awkward keyboard controls (assuming, that is, you’re accessing the bar via desktop). There will likely be a few other avatars hanging around the entrance, like actual flesh-and-blood bar-goers waiting for an Uber. After typing in your date of birth, thereby placating the virtual bouncer hanging around the door, you’ll be transported inside. The scene inside isn’t anything remotely resembling a party — just a smattering of stiff-looking avatars staring somewhat creepily into space. The bar, of course, abounds with Miller Lite branding. We’ll have to wait and see what the scene will be like on the day of the Big Game — when the company’s new ad will revealed within the virtual bar — which is after all the event for which the bar has been built.
Key takeaway: Even if the virtual bar doesn’t pan out to be a smash hit that sparks a trend across the food and beverage industry, it did stimulate conversation (good and bad). Still, given the fact that this is the metaverse, where brands are literally not bound by the laws of physics, it’s strange that Miller Lite decided to give its virtual bar the appearance and aesthetic of a cheap sports bar. There’s even audio, composed of pre-recorded bar ambiance: mostly glasses clinking and people chatting in low voices. Miller Lite, Walmart and others seem to be falling into the same trap — so common during these early days of the metaverse — of trying to mimic reality in an environment where anything can be created virtually.
Samsung’s tech team experiences true heartbreak during Valentine’s Day stunt
Imagine you were hosting a big party, and your guests couldn’t get through the front door? Unfortunately, that happened to Samsung during its Valentine’s Day event in the metaverse. A technical glitch led to throngs of avatars being stuck outside the event’s virtual doors while Samsung worked to resolve the issue and get on with the show. “Unfortunately, a technical issue in one of Decentraland's realms prevented some people from accessing the event,” Samsung told The Drum in a statement. “As soon as we knew of the issue, we informed the community via Twitter and redirected our visitors to a new entry,” Difficulties aside, there were some intriguing aspects to the event. In addition to promoting new products, Samsung promised a virtual “Turn red hearts green” quest, wherein visitors were challenged to collect various pieces of virtual recyclable materials in order to earn a NFT. The quest culminated in the “Sustainability Forest,” where triumphant avatars ventured to plant a virtual tree. The campaign had a distinct Valentine’s Day aesthetic — with little heart icons appearing at various points of the journey — to give it a feel of timeliness.
Key takeaway: The new campaign appears to be yet another example of a company leveraging the metaverse to broadcast its tech-savviness, as well as the fact that it has its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. The results of these experiments can often be bizarre and, in this case, beset by tech trouble. None of that is necessarily a bad thing — experimentation is a prerequisite for innovation, and technical hiccups are bound to occur. In light of that, it’s important for brands to communicate with their audiences that mistakes might happen, but if they do, they will be treated as a learning experience. That appears to be the tone that Samsung has adopted in the aftermath of the technical difficulties that it experienced earlier this week: “We've been working with some of the top creators in the Decentraland community. Through their support, creativity, and willingness to try new things, we will continue to evolve and adapt,” the company told The Drum. And while it may not be exactly clear how planting a virtual tree is supposed to translate into real ecological benefit, it is a novel example of a major tech company using these new technologies to broadcast, and get consumers engaged with, its brand purpose.
YouTube eyes NFT verification and gaming “that feels more alive”
The popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has exploded. A growing number of brands, and individuals, have launched NFT campaigns as a means of boosting consumer engagement, promoting brand loyalty, and offering the allure of exclusive ownership of a unique commodity. Major social media companies were quick to cash in on the NFT craze. Twitter recently announced that users could begin using NFTs as profile pictures. TikTok launched its first “creator-led NFT collection." Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri said his company was “definitely actively exploring NFTs and how we can make them more accessible to a broader audience.” And Facebook of course rebranded to Meta, shifting its focus predominantly towards the metaverse. Now YouTube will be throwing its weight behind NFTs. “We believe new technologies like blockchain and NFTs can allow creators to build deeper relationships with their fans,” Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, said in a blog post earlier this week. “Together, they’ll be able to collaborate on new projects and make money in ways not previously possible. For example, giving a verifiable way for fans to own unique videos, photos, art, and even experiences from their favorite creators could be a compelling prospect for creators and their audiences. There’s a lot to consider in making sure we approach these new technologies responsibly, but we think there’s incredible potential as well.”
Key takeway: This is a big step for the Google-owned company. It clearly recognizes that the digital art market is an unstoppable train, and it seems eager to find ways to avoid fraud. It also wants to dig deeper into gaming content. Specifically, it said in the blog post: "we'll work to bring more interactions to games and make them feel more alive." The more the YouTubes of the world dig into the metaverse, the more this feels like there is a very real future for marketers in this space.