Just 38% of consumers familiar with ‘metaverse’ despite growing tech dependence, report

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Dive Brief:

  • Even as the “metaverse” becomes a buzzword, just 38% of global consumers are familiar with the concept that describes the blurring line between digital and physical spaces, according to a new report from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.
  • Still, trends underpinning the emergence of a metaverse are accelerating: 76% of consumers surveyed for the “Into the Metaverse” report said their daily lives now depend on technology, with that figure rising to 79% for Gen Zers — defined as 16-to-26-year-olds — and 80% of millennials, or people in the 27 to 41 age range.
  • A bent toward tech is mirrored in marketing, as 66% of consumers prefer to engage brands digitally and 73% find it easier to interact with brands through online channels. Eighty-five percent said a digital presence will be “essential” for brands to succeed in the future. The research surveyed more than 3,000 consumers across the U.S., U.K. and China in July and included interviews with 15 experts on their interpretations of the metaverse and its implications for industries.

Dive Insight:

While mainstream familiarity with the metaverse remains low, the consumer habits underpinning the concept are more pronounced as the pandemic pushes people to adopt new ways of interacting digitally in work, commerce and entertainment. Brands, in turn, have begun to experiment more with building virtual worlds inside of video games or auctioning off digital paraphernalia through nascent blockchain technology. On the platform end, Facebook plans to reinvent itself as a “metaverse company,” according to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, signaling that awareness of the idea could accelerate in the years ahead.

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence’s findings suggest marketers who move quickly have the chance to get in on the ground floor of a new digital frontier that will be increasingly important to their businesses amid a radical shift in shopping habits and consumer engagement. However, overloading intimate virtual spaces with ads poses its own risks, as evidenced by the deprecation of user experiences on other digital channels that have become plastered with brand messages.

“The foundational tools and habits forming the building blocks of the metaverse are already established,” Naomi Troni, global chief marketing and growth officer of Wunderman Thompson, said in a press statement. “Only 38% global consumers may have heard of the term ‘metaverse,’ but the time is now to truly define what the metaverse is and establish a roadmap for brands’ entry.”

A term purportedly coined in the 1992 Neal Stephenson novel “Snow Crash,” the metaverse has historically been associated with online gaming, and some of its most noteworthy examples still stem from massively multiplayer platforms like Roblox and Epic Games’ Fortnite. But Wunderman Thompson Intelligence emphasized that the metaverse purview is quickly expanding as screens play a larger role in connecting people around the globe.

The firm broke down the metaverse into four key areas: MetaLives, which constitute ideas such as digital ownership and content creation through formats like digital art and nonfungible tokens; MetaSpaces, virtual venues or activations that blend aspects of the virtual world with the real one; MetaBusinesses, including the rise of “gamevertising,” where brands appear within the realm of video games; and MetaSocieties characterized by people closely wedding their real-life identities with channels like social media and cultivating “hyper-real identities online.”

These categories intersect with a climbing — and potentially alarming — consumer dependence on tech. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents reported that tech is a pillar of their social lives, while 61% said their livelihoods depend on it. More than half (52%) said their happiness is tied to tech.

As scrutiny of social media and screen addiction’s impact on mental health, well-being and political division grows, brands may want to carefully consider the role they play in supporting technology that might contribute to alienation. Still, the pull of digital engagement is strong: 62% of consumers feel closer when interacting with a brand digitally, per Wunderman Thompson intelligence.

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