Gaming is one of the biggest, overlooked media behaviours out there

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With so many forms of digital media, and new ones always on the horizon, how do you determine which way of pushing content is the most viable?

It is always best to anchor everything in the audience and the data. Understanding what people really are using and how they’re behaving beyond the hype. This should be a mix of qualitative and quantitative understanding. Intuitive and evidence based.

For example, The Sandbox is one of the commonly referenced metaverse spaces, and they recently announced their usership had grown from 30k MAU (monthly active users) to 300k MAU in a year. The growth and technology behind The Sandbox is impressive. However, Second Life (yes, the original Second Life) has roughly double that number of MAU currently. And Fortnite has around 270m MAU.

This doesn’t mean you should only go where the masses are. But it is a useful reminder that the hype and talk about the metaverse shows where energy and excitement is, but not necessarily where people are on a meaningful scale. So brands should be clear on who they want to reach and what they want to achieve.

This is why transparent, trusted, quality data is key to making informed digital media decisions. Walled gardens and platforms marking their own homework make the murky world of digital media ever more opaque.

Gaming is one of the biggest, overlooked media behaviours out there. There are many opportunities for brands to get involved – through partnerships, through streamers, through paid media and more. Formal partnerships can give brands ways for their products, services and brands to appear in games - like how Marvel appears within Fortnite, but it can also open up more classic sponsorship options such as Honda and League of Legends. But brands can also partner with streamers who are gamer specific influencers - for example the famous mustachioed Dr Disrespect and his partnership with Gillette. Lastly, there is a lot of paid media opportunity within gamer spaces - with mobile game video advertising, to Twitch channel pre-roll. So there are plenty of storytelling opportunities and the demographics are far broader than the stereotype would suggest.

If you want to reach and impact people in a digital media channel right now – look at gaming. If you are interested in the potential and growth of web3 and the metaverse, then explore a project in that space.

How does the boundless framework of the metaverse make it appealing for brands and marketers to get involved in this new form of media?
Just as Web 2.0 opened up the world of creativity and content to every user on the internet, web3 and the metaverse hopes to continue to do this but on an ever more fundamental and decentralized level.

Part of the appeal of any space – physical or virtual – is that it gives brands and marketers an interesting stage to tell a story. A spot in a Superbowl break, an experiential event, or the metaverse, can offer up interesting and different stages on which to perform.

The metaverse has a lot of interesting potential as a hugely flexible, varied and rich space to do this – creating experiences which are limited only by imagination.

So the appeal is in being able to find new and powerful ways of telling stories that can be immersive, social, connected, co-created. It isn’t anything radically new, but it adds new dimensions that could be exciting for brands.

That said, it is also extremely early days and the opportunities to do this with meaningful scale and consistency are pretty limited. The best way to get involved at this stage is in an exploratory, learning way. This means protecting budget and having clear learning objectives for proof-of-concept or exploratory projects. The best way to get a fast start in an unknown space is to partner with those who know and love it. Managing expectations and understanding limitations.

What plans, if any, does your agency have to expand its reach into the metaverse?
We are increasingly researching and developing new projects with our clients that extend into the metaverse. For the right moment and brief, it can offer some hugely exciting opportunities. To do this, we’ve been building up general understanding across our agency while also developing and partnering with deep specialists within the space. This means we’ve been developing strategic and consultative expertise, immersing ourselves in the creative opportunities and talking to production and delivery partners for execution.

In what ways can the increase in virtual presence lead to more successful campaigns and what would a virtual space allow you to do that traditional media hasn’t?
One of the most exciting aspects of the metaverse is the ability to create experiences that anyone around the world can access and experience. So one of the most exciting opportunities is to take traditionally physical experiences and supercharge it with a virtual extension. Whether that be car shows, product launches, or influencer partnerships, it is exciting to bring together disparate people from around the world.

However, beyond the Metaverse, the huge mainstream world of gaming has offered virtual experiences to consumers for decades. This has seen the development of a distinct artform and storytelling medium. Brands can learn a lot from game design - game designers are experts at building rich and immersive worlds and stories, which is something relevant for many brands today, especially in an increasingly fragmented and inter-connected digital world

For example, creating non-linear stories that gamers love to spend time in. Exploratory open world games are quite a useful model for understanding immersive brand experiences.

But also around using experiential rather than monetary rewards to keep people playing and engaging. Games are (unsurprisingly) pioneers of gamification - which is where using smart incentives structures keep people playing. This means they are experts at persuasive design and creating experiences that people keep coming back to.

How do you anticipate the metaverse shaping new forms of storytelling in advertising?

Brands should be thinking about their distinctive assets and their brand story and how this could extend in a meaningful and compelling way into these virtual spaces.

It opens up opportunities to carry out even more interactive experiences – with consumers being an active part in a brands story, or being able to live through their own brand experience, rather than just watching.

But it also forces brands to think about what a branded world and experience would look like – how the brand comes to life beyond the page and onto the screen.

The metaverse has its roots in gaming and there is a lot of overlap. The most developed and useful inspiration for the metaverse comes from the world of gaming. Animal Crossing, Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite are all very compelling ‘metaverse like’ experiences. So understanding the behaviours and principles of game design will help brands understand how stories can play out in these spaces.

Given the interactive nature of these virtual spaces, how do you see this affecting the way consumers consume and engage with advertisements?
It would be easy to get carried away with predictions of how this would change consumers' relationship with advertising. But the relationship between consumers and advertising has broadly stayed the same over the decades and each new wave of interactivity brings as much bad as it does good.

The interactivity and community of web 2.0 and the social web was predicted to bring an end to ‘interruptive advertising as we know it’ and instead we got clickbait, native advertising, display advertising and shorter and shorter advertising that is less and less creative.

So it would be a mistake to assume that web3 and metaverse spaces will do anything fundamental to the relationship between consumers and advertising.

That said, if the metaverse or any other web3 space, generates significant, measurable, quality attention, then a media world will evolve to allow brands to utilise that attention.

The way that virtual spaces do (or don’t) build a media and advertising environment will determine that relationship. It could bring around some exciting new approaches but that isn’t a given. Brands will be competing with every other game, content franchise and community led initiative out there. So while brands can and should aim to make such compelling content that consumers choose to spend time with, they will still want and need to use media and conventional advertising to direct attention to their brands and not elsewhere.

The way that brands play out in gaming give us some interesting clues as to how this will continue to evolve. By-and-large, the opportunities for ‘in-game advertising media’ are limited, as gaming is less likely to be ad-funded. So instead, brands are appearing through partnerships, through streamers, and through product placement.

It would be exciting to see a decentralized shift in power and control around attention and advertising. Where the exchange between consumer and brand was clear and transparent and seen as a win-win by both sides.