Q&A: Tug’s Hannah Thompson on How Brands Can Harness Metaverse Opportunities Without Killing the Buzz

Hannah Thompson

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

Each passing day brings us a step closer to a fully realized metaverse, along with a slew of questions from marketers wondering how best to take advantage of this incredible new connected paradigm. Hannah Thompson, Programmatic Account Manager at Tug, shares her insights on where we’re headed and what to expect.

Q: What is the Metaverse – or what will it be?

There is a near equal ratio of excitement and confusion about Web3 potential, especially the Metaverse. Most of us are familiar with where the term came from — Neal Stephenson’s infamous Snow Crash novel — and what it involves at a broad level. The best description I’ve seen is Mark Zuckerberg’s “embodied internet”, which captures the relatively simple concept of enabling people to exist in an all-encompassing online world. But despite ongoing efforts to define key characteristics, no one’s sure exactly how the Metaverse will take shape.

For now, that limits us to guessing based on known technologies and trends. And after huge advances in adoption, accessibility and sophistication, gaming is high on the list. Gamers already embracing virtual play and connection are set to be a firm Metaverse feature, and so are viewers currently joining in on Twitch. Both augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) will obviously be major elements of that, but it’s also likely they will have roles in other embodied experiences, such as shopping, socialising, stepping into content, and working. It’s not such a big leap from clocking on remotely to donning a headset and entering the Metaverse office.

Q: Where will brand activation begin?

Initially, we can expect extensions and evolutions on current abilities. Again, gaming is the prime candidate. Recent years have seen brands looking to seize rising mainstream popularity through native in-game ads, collaborations, and sponsorship — to the point ‘Red Bull athlete’ status is a coveted mark of success for esports stars. As developers and players move to the Metaverse, these activations will transfer across and become even more immersive.

Much the same goes for AR and VR. Having made their way into several areas of advertising over the last decade, there are many use cases for mixed reality promotions. A key example is programmatic perimeter ads within sports, which adjust creative overlays for pitch-side hoardings or banners according to the weather, viewer location, and real-time events such as goals. Live streams in the interconnected realm will offer similar scope for brands to win favour with sports fans, alongside broader entertainment and ecommerce audiences.

It’s also worth noting the emerging shift towards building designated branded online spaces. Gucci is a leading innovator here; creating the Gucci Garden exhibition on Roblox in 2021 that showcased past campaigns in a limited 3D virtual experience. For brands looking to get closer to users, this is an interesting avenue to explore.

Q: So, is it going to be better for audience engagement?

In the Web2 era, brands have gone from talking at consumers to holding meaningful two-way conversations, often on social platforms. It’s probable the next frontier will allow them to dial efforts up a level and forge deeper connections; be that through interactive ad campaigns where users can virtually try out products or personalised assistance from customer services avatars. But there is also a risk brands may get too caught up in experimenting with advanced possibilities and forget the importance of delivering real value for individuals.

Not all consumers will fall into the digitally savvy early advocate camp, there will also be slow adopters and those who are strongly opposed. For example, while we hear a lot about the silver surfers and universal mobile use, there are still high numbers of app adverse consumers in the 60 plus age group, including my own mother. This means brands must consider whether going virtual is the best fit for their core audience before reframing strategies — and ensure any experiences they do create are worthwhile, and usable, for different demographics.

In short, there is plenty of opportunity for greater engagement; under the right conditions and as long as brands don’t dive into the Metaverse for the sake of it.

Q: How can brands make an effective entrance?

By paying careful attention to what users are doing. Brands have multiple established tactics they can apply with a good chance of success, but we don’t really know how audiences will respond. Questions about what will spark interest and how purchase funnels will flow can only be accurately answered by testing varied approaches and learning from the outcomes.

When configuring their starting plan, however, there are key factors for brands to keep in mind. Recent virtual activations have aimed to make a short-lived splash: think Balenciaga’s Fortnite hub and the Louis Vuitton bi-centenary mobile game. This indicates nearer-term ventures will largely revolve around upper funnel goals, and the high volume of big-name players also suggests gains will be about amplification for those with already vast footprints.

Most businesses will therefore fuel better immediate benefits using Metaverse elements in combination with other media activity. For instance, medium weight companies might craft augmented experiences that drive exposure on top of TV, display, and video ads. Of course, it won’t take long for the landscape to change. As user uptake scales, potential for smaller brands to enter the frame will grow, with additional room for challenger brands to launch and live exclusively inside the Metaverse.

Q: How will evolution move forward?

It’s uncertain, but one thing is for sure: it needs to be organic and led by younger users. Millennials like myself may remember what happened to major social platforms when our parents joined in: cool credentials disappeared in a moment. Brands today are teetering on the edge of crashing and ruining the party — we must be mindful not to let enthusiasm for engagement opportunities see us turn into the mums and dads who killed the buzz.

Rather than trying to jump in and dictate the future path of the Metaverse, the advertising and marketing industry needs to let Gen Z take the wheel; only getting to work on building experiences once users have set the tone.