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Bob Wootton 

What the Metaverse means for advertising

What the Metaverse means for advertising

Bob Wootton explores the Metaverse and questions if advertising's relationship with technology will improve as a result

“Never eat anything bigger than your head” as the absurdist seventies cartoonist, B. Kliban once averred in a book I have of his.

I was reminded of this by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent reference to The (his?) Metaverse.

It was in truth, little more than another deflection whilst under fire for yet another round of privacy, editorial, brand safety and now targeting transgressions.

Add this to the corporation’s attitude towards taxation and competition law, exemplified by, most recently its offhand dismissal of a preliminary ruling on the anti-competitive impacts of its acquisition of Giphy by our own Competition & Markets Authority.

Suffice to say here that despite their market significance, no UK media owner would ever have dared challenge the competition authorities’ competence thus. Advertisers would have been put at an even greater disadvantage if they had.

All of which gives the lie to the power and attendant arrogance that comes with owning such large shares of global ad markets as Facebook and Alphabet/Google now enjoy. 

These folks truly see themselves as citizens of everywhere and – governments take note – nowhere. See also the world’s richest duo, Bezos & Musk – not a bad name for an agency, actually.

With The Metaverse, Zuck has given us a whole new enchilada to jabber and speculate about – so I thought I’d consider what is an utterly vast proposition.

For many years, tech’s various high priests have tried to get us to imagine joining up ALL the dots. Most tech promises the utopia of automation, elimination of repetitive tasks and universality and instancy of communications.

The later advent of artificial Intelligence, in which I’ve also had some involvement, polished this pitch yet further.

It’s an intriguing suggestion, made even more powerful by being what everyone wants to hear.

For the ad industry, it’s an opportunity either to refine the way we do business or at least allow some to fashion positions as gurus.

The idea of a Metaverse where everything is both connected and intelligent, for example in health, finance, transport, energy, food supply, government, law enforcement is enticing.

Your health details seamlessly shared by all who could make a positive difference, your scans and bloods all the while being continuously analysed by AI bots with keener vision and greater collective experience than any specialist. Er, perhaps we could start by linking dentists and GPs?

Your finance providers linking to customise – and proactively recommend - services specific to your circumstances and needs at the lowest rates. At the macro level your investments are already traded largely automatically at just below the speed of light.

Your energy suppliers similarly tailoring your supply and charges precisely to you, just as already happens at the national supply grid level.

Cities with improved transport flows as all vehicles, manned or autonomous, public or private communicate continuously with each other across many continuously updated datasets. No more driving around warming the planet searching fruitlessly for parking or fuel. Automatic road and parking charging, replacing an utterly confusing forest of self-contradictory signage.

Not so much simplification of the arcane tax system as total personalisation.

Foods modified and cultivated to order under more managed climatic conditions…

This and much, much more is the Metaverse.

The technology exists. But.

All this is beguiling until you look at where we are and how we behave after living with tech for decades already.

- Why do so many of us now spend all our days in front of the computers that were supposed to remove drudgery and repetitive tasks from our lives?

- How many apps promise the world yet require iterative data entry that should be automatic and seamless by now?

- Why are there more and more dead-end data entry jobs?

- Why are waiting times for everything lengthening?

- When was the last time you got through to a human at a supplier? (No, we get recorded messages saying how busy THEY are, indicating no regard whatsoever for how busy YOU, the customer, might be. Unprecedented is not a word that can be used every hour of every day, or so I thought. CRM people - stick that in your pipe and smoke it).

- Surely air traffic control is ripe for this miracle intervention. Why then do we continue to – rightly – require air traffic control to be handled by highly-trained and regularly refreshed humans? Do we not trust the tech enough yet?

Google has taken some interesting, apparently counterintuitive positions recently, trying to place itself as good cop to Facebook’s bad actor.

But however much they diversify - and deny it - both are fundamentally advertising-driven businesses, especially Facebook. Any consideration of The Metaverse must acknowledge this.

Sadly, we’re way off.  We can now target with extraordinary accuracy but seldom do.  Industry comment is awash with how we aren’t using the tools we now have.

We don’t even cap exposure. Rather, we typically buy impacts cheaply under relentless client pressure and end-up annoying and disenfranchising their customers through excessive frequency, irrelevant retargeting and so on. And serving mostly shit.

It would be a spectacular own goal if we were to approach The Metaverse the same way, but the signs are not promising.

We’re already wrestling with the demise of third-party cookies. Will The Metaverse overtake and provide a universal and seamless alternative to consumer tracking? Not if consumer rights groups, gaining traction with governments, have any say.

As for fulfilment, drone deliveries are apparently imminent. How do we fancy sharing busy roads with autonomous vans and pavements with automated ankle-level freezer boxes?

There’s going to be a lot of froth  - and advertiser interest - in this space and pundits are predicting an imminent adtech boom. 

I’d welcome this if it were accompanied by any – ANY – necessary improvement in custom and practice, but I’m not holding my breath.

Amara’s law likely holds true here – we will yet again willingly and gleefully overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term (while probably underestimating it in the long).

But hey, Zuck’s now also putting smart glasses back on the agenda.

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