Once upon a time, targeting an audience was a relatively simple proposition for a brand or an advertiser. Think radio, print, and television; specifically, the three broadcast networks and a handful of independent stations. Then there were more broadcast nets, the rise of cable, and the arrival of the internet, social media, and the streaming services. Flash to the present and the latest entry in the world of digital technology is the metaverse, which begs the question…what exactly is the metaverse? And how will this impact the world of content and the way brands plan their advertising strategies?
“On paper, the metaverse is described as an immersive three-dimensional virtual experience spanning various digital platforms and merging with the physical world,” noted Mike Tankel, partner/optimist at the marketing and development firm To Be Continued. “Users can interact with a computer-generated environment for entertainment, social interaction, and work, among other things, which will increasingly take place in the metaverse world.”
One prediction is a universal shift from the internet to the metaverse, or as some say, from web 2 to web 3, centralization to decentralization, bridging the digital and physical lives of the next generation. Another is how the metaverse promises to alter the current state of online advertising significantly.
For a marketer or brand, the burgeoning influence of the metaverse certainly cannot be discounted. But that is not to say there might not be some initial skepticism.
“What we often say to brands is to not be afraid of the metaverse,” said Ann Hand, Chairman and CEO at Super League, who spearheads the strategic partnerships for brands in this new digital world and culture. The audience is there and the opportunities exist, but the ad dollars have not caught up yet.”
Super League is a leading creator and publisher of content experiences and media solutions across the world’s largest immersive platforms.
“It is kind of like the move of TV and cable to the internet, where the advertisers and brands were initially questionable and could not get their heads around the content and the measurement being different,” said Hand. “We are here to not just create campaigns for brands in the metaverse, but to be the inner point solution for them to start to create a persistent presence no differently from what they do on other social media channels.”
“For years, sports have been a holy grail for marketers, from in game promotions to Super Bowl activations and multi-million dollars ads,” noted Mike Tankel. “Now, with the metaverse, we have the stadium of the future where we know who’s participating, who’s sitting in each seat and who’s watching allowing us to deliver them an engaging experience they not only remember but can readily act upon.”
By the numbers…
According to the website METAV.RS, there are over 400 million active metaverse users at present every month. Seventy four percent of American adults are considering or have joined the metaverse. And, by 2026, 25 percent of individuals are expected to spend an hour per day in the metaverse.
“At the beginning, we started bringing gamers together, structuring leagues around them, in movie theaters in 2015. But instead of watching a movie, they would sign on to the network we had established with city-on-city matchups and live leaderboards,” remembered Ann Hand, who prior to joining Super League in 2015 was the CEO of clean tech start up Project Frog, and held a variety of senior positions with oil industry company BP. She began her career at Exxon-Mobil in 1990 and had a two-year stint as a Business Development Manager at the McDonald’s Corporation in the mid-1990s.
“What I saw in these early games were family connections and friendships being formed, communities coming together, barriers being broken down, and misconceptions about the gaming community being refuted,” noted Hand. “At that time, it was about finding the business model. The primary goal was to develop the right strategic partnerships and to see if there was something that could be scaled.”
In market value, the metaverse is predicted to rise to $800 billion by 2024. An estimated 25 percent of American individuals will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026. And, by 2030, the metaverse could contribute an additional five trillion U.S. dollars to the world economy.
“Early on, the hardest part was getting the permission from the people who made the games and the publishers,” said Hand. “The model always was we would have brands or sponsors help us. I needed to position how Super League could be a trusted place for their brand and community, and that we would be transparent. And I was raising money; operations, fundraising, and partnerships basically.”
The Road to Digital
Recognizing the growing value of esports from a live event showcase that was not all that profitable at its inception, Ann Hand refers to 2015 to 2019 (or 2020) as having “a lot of pivots and iterations in the business.”
“After the first couple of years of running these live events, we looked at the unit economics and realized we had to become more digital,” noted Hand. “That is the way gamers game; they game from home. So, we started to run digital tournaments that allowed us to grab more players, while the crescendo of the tournament might be a live event.”
“Then, right before the pandemic, and when it hit, we then realized we had to be completely digital to properly monetize our actions,” she said. “We had a Minecraft property at the time, which we still have today, called Minehut, that allows you to invite your friends into your own private server. We grew that from about 100,000 registered users to about two to three million registered users, and we made the decision to just really double down on where we had the most digital engagement (which was that property).”
“We still do esports experiences and events, but when you go into Minecraft and Roblox, or any of these open world or open map games, you are talking to way too small of a segment with just the most competitive one. So, we made the decision to cast a wider net and speak to the hyper casual gamer as well who was there for social and creation and other things,” explained Hand. “While we would still do things at times with other game titles, we shifted our focus to Minecraft and Roblox and took that brand positioning to say we were the place that could help bring brands into these massive digital social platforms.”
A New Era of Content Creation
Ann Hand also cites the emergence of the co-creation of social media platforms like Tik Tok, where you get to be the creator and get to make your own content, and Roblox, which puts the tools in. “All of a sudden you had Minecraft out there, you had Fortnite buzzing that they were going to open up all their tools to allow you, and then Roblox was the dominant factor,” noted Hand. “The average Roblox user spends 156 minutes a day on it. The second closest social channel is Tik Tok at 95 minutes.”
For advertisers, targeting the gaming community, or any digital audience, was – and still often is – a foreign concept. But the advertisers and sponsors still marred by this uncertainty of anything new are predicted to eventually be part of these massively populated gaming communities. According to a data presentation earlier this year by Banklesstimes.com, American businesses are planning to increase their metaverse ad budgets from $0.53 million to $1.93 billion between 2023 and 2028, which at conclusion represents a rise of 264 percent in advertising spending in the virtual world. Statista, meanwhile, is predicting the metaverse ad budgets to skyrocket to $2.52 billion by 2030.
“What we like about these open world games is we can bake advertising, so to speak, in an immersive way into the game because we can modify the maps,” noted Hand. “That is something that I think is hard to understand for some brands and investors because a lot of them don’t understand the difference, for example, between Pac Man, which you can’t change the map, and these mini- games inside Roblox, where you can continually change the them.”
“What we have done for Mattel, where we created an immersive experience in Roblox in celebration of Barbie’s Dreamhouse, we can do themed to any brand. “Forty-seven percent of U.S. consumers say they expect to meet a brand first in metaverse or immersive verse. This is the place where you start the relationship, that then converts to the physical.”
In addition to Mattel, Super League has worked with brands like Chipotle, Disney Paramount, LEGO, Toyota, Motorola, Hershey’s, Warner Bros. and with media properties like the Broadway musical Hamilton and Dreamworks animated film Trolls to design in-game activations inside platforms, such as Roblox and Fortnite.
“What I often say to brands is to not let the word ‘gaming’ get in the way,” said Hand. “Yes, this is a highly interactive gamified experience. But this is also what the next generation of social media channels look like. They are just more personalized, more customized, and more intimate, and a must for any advertiser to reach today’s audience.”
“Ideally, the metaverse is a destination without hierarchy, where people can play, work, speak, learn and shop not just as who they are, but as who they want to be,” said Mike Tankel. “And it is now a key destination for brands and advertisers.”
Image Credit: GETTY and SUPER LEAGUE
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