Person with VR headset exploring metaverse

Facebook’s announcement that they were rebranding to Meta in October 2021 and committing to building up the “metaverse” has generated a lot of buzz around the concept—and a lot of confusion.

For those unfamiliar with the metaverse, it may seem like this is something new that Facebook has concocted. From new metaverse real estate spinoffs to a recent product launch by a major cell phone manufacturer, it’s obvious that Facebook’s announcement has generated tons of interest in what these virtual spaces are—and what they mean for marketers moving forward.

Concept History

The metaverse has existed as a concept for many years, first coined in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash published in 1992. In Stephenson’s metaverse, people met each other as avatars in a virtual world. More recent metaverse representations include Ernest Kline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, which was made into a film in 2018, and several episodes of the near-future sci-fi series Black Mirror, which also premiered in 2011 and ran for five seasons. Each depiction explores the exciting possibilities—and dangers—of immersive augmented and virtual reality experiences.

Existing Metaverse Worlds

Four major metaverse worlds predate Meta’s entry into the market. These four worlds – Sandbox, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium – have developed real estate markets where individuals and businesses can buy properties to build homes, shops, attractions, and more. Real estate sales in these 4 “worlds” reached $501 million last year, and Meta’s October announcement and ensuing media frenzy resulted in record January numbers: $85 million in a single month.1 The popular children’s game platform Roblox also has a metaverse component boasting millions of daily users.2

Effects of Meta’s Entry

Meta’s new presence in the metaverse is called “Horizon Worlds.” Along with Meta’s prior acquisition of Oculus, it’s clear that they’re gearing up for a major virtual reality (VR) play. The interest of a global tech giant has certainly added a veneer of legitimacy to the concept and sparked interest in virtual worlds among the public at large. Increased interest has translated to emerging issues as more people come online to experience these worlds. Virtual sexual harassment is already being reported in Meta’s Horizon Worlds, for example, leading to a 4-foot “bubble” around avatars being created. An entirely new kind of internet moderation may be necessary to facilitate safe virtual spaces.

Early Marketing Adopters

Major corporations like Walmart, McDonald’s, Nike, Disney, and others are already developing plans for an established metaverse presence and virtual product offerings that dovetail with their physical offerings.3-6 The marketing potential for metaverse spaces and events will be huge if public interest increases to the extent that’s being anticipated. The full metaverse experience for Meta’s Horizon Worlds is still being built and other efforts are also in formative stages, which means metaverse marketing is still mostly a publicity stunt. That said, keeping abreast of developments in these expanding virtual worlds and becoming familiar with the platform should help marketers avoid being left out of the next big thing.

1 Metaverse real estate sales top $500 million, and are projected to double this year.

2 Roblox’s metaverse is already here, and it’s wildly popular.

3 Walmart is quietly preparing to enter the metaverse.

4 McDonald’s is going metaverse with new restaurant to deliver food online, in person.

5 Nike is quietly preparing for the metaverse

6 Disney is placing its bets on sports streaming and the metaverse.