Metaverse is going mainstream, but most consumers still don’t get it

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Diving brief:

  • Nearly three-quarters of consumers surveyed (74%) had heard of the Metaverse in March, according to a press release that Wunderman Thompson Intelligence shared with sister publication Marketing Dive. That’s a notable increase in awareness from last July, when just 32% said they were familiar with the term.
  • Familiarity was not followed by understanding, as only 15% of respondents felt they could explain what the Metaverse is to other people. Despite this, two-thirds of consumers believe the concept could change their lives, 68% described it as the “next internet” and 74% said it represents the future.
  • Concerns persist around the metaverse, with 72% of parents concerned about children’s privacy and 66% about children’s safety. Still, the study, which surveyed more than 3,000 people aged 16 to 65 in the US, UK and China, says the metaverse has earned a place in public discourse that could help accelerate adoption.

Overview of the dive:

The latest research from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, in addition to findings released by the group in September, backs up the rapid clip in which the Metaverse entered the mainstream. However, more people who have simply heard the term do not correlate with education about its inner workings, as few would feel confident describing what the metaverse is in practice. Given the lack of knowledge, the growing consumer belief that the Metaverse represents “the future” might have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The discrepancies potentially stem from a lack of a shared definition of what constitutes the metaverse. Wunderman Thompson Intelligence describes it, at the most basic level, as “a technology-enhanced extension of our lives.” Loftier representations imagine richly detailed online worlds that people will connect to using virtual reality tools. There they can engage in a variety of activities and purchase everything from clothing to property in an effort to transfer their identities from the real world to the digital realm. That’s the ideal envisioned by companies like Meta Platforms, which rebranded from Facebook last year to signal its commitments to achieving such a hybrid social experience.

Elsewhere, metaverse activations are essentially a shortcut for online games. A brand creating an island in Fortnite or Roblox is frequently billed as part of the metaverse. Although the game is an important precursor to the metaverse, these abilities have been implemented and used by marketers for years.

That said, recent trends have shown that companies are ready to invest in gaming in ways that lay the groundwork for ambitious metaverses down the line. Nike launched a Nikeland space in Roblox in November where visitors can try out virtual versions of its products and participate in games intended to encourage repeat visits.

Such activations seem to be popular with consumers. Nikeland had attracted nearly 7 million users in March. A recent campaign by Wendy’s that opened a virtual restaurant on Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform reached 52 million users, Meta said in its recent earnings report. Meta wants to make Horizon Worlds more accessible, with plans to introduce a web version this year that doesn’t require a headset. Hardware costs and clunky experiences have generally been prohibitive to wider VR adoption and could be a barrier for the metaverse.

An encouraging sign for brands, 89% of consumers surveyed by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence said advertising would be an industry impacted by the metaverse. Other top-ranked categories included retail (86%), fashion (85%) and finance (82%), while food and beverage came in at the bottom of the list (74%).

Other elements of the metaverse and associated Web3 frontier appear to be in trouble. Non-fungible tokens were once considered an important method for brands to experiment with the metaverse. Last year branded NFT drops were common, with businesses from McDonald’s and Pepsi at Crockpot jumping into action. But NFT sales explodedown 92% from the September peak, the Wall Street Journal reported.

As brands try to gauge what will last versus a flash in the pan with the metaverse, agencies see an opportunity. WPP, the parent of Wunderman Thompson, revealed earlier this week a Partnership with Epic Gamesdeveloper of Fortnite, on an initiative that aims to train employees of the ad holding group for the metaverse.

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