I had the pleasure earlier this June of giving a fierce argument on behalf of the future of the metaverse at the prestigious Oxford Union, alongside technologists, academics, journalists, and brand leaders seeking to determine whether “this house should live in the metaverse.” Spoiler alert: we lost the debate. But I got some interesting insights from the audience – mostly younger, Gen Z consumers. The reasons why we lost prove there’s much for marketers to dig in on as they drum up consumer excitement about the metaverse, map its contours, and start innovating their technologies, products, and services.
Younger consumers are cynical almost to the point of anger about Big Tech and FAANG dominating the metaverse. I heard impassioned speeches from the opposition about the various ailments Web2 platforms have unleashed on the world, from broken freedom of speech to harassment, to consolidation of power, and more. And that tracks recent research from National Research Group showing consumers think the Internet has become more commercialized (80%), addictive (79%), and has encouraged people to treat each other more cruelly (69%).
These Oxfordians challenge the idea you can live a fulfilling life in the metaverse, even as they see the potential for it to scale and democratize access to global travel, quality education, and shared experiences. Blame it on the propensity of the young to see apocalypses lurking behind every corner or on the lingering psycho-social effects of the pandemic, but younger consumers are worried metaverse tech will open Pandora’s Box into a social dystopia where consumers live more in virtual reality than real life.
Oxford listeners are just as confused about the terminology as brand marketers (but that doesn’t matter). Metaverse? Web3? Blockchain? Younger consumers are just as baffled by the buzzwords as senior brand marketers. But they’re not invested in the halo excitement around this fresh new tech – and unimpressed with many of the early metaverse experiments which don’t model the true potential of Web3.
We’ll be inventing and reinventing the metaverse for years, if not decades, to come. To make the metaverse perform for consumers (not just for those of us geeking out about the technology) brands are going to need to keep their ears to the ground with polling, surveys, and data analysis to track where consumers see the metaverse adding value – and where they’re just confused about why brands are serving virtual hot dogs.