There’s More to Media Than the Metaverse

With an aging population, advertisers shouldn't get distracted by virtual worlds alone

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Marketers need to remember: The metaverse may be the loudest stage at the festival, but it’s not the only band playing.

When we talk about future-facing media opportunities, the metaverse lives in marketers’ heads rent-free. But never forget, other tried-and-tested, enduring technologies have also been steadfastly evolving in the background. TV, outdoor, audio and many other classic media channels are still being propelled along an upward curve, advancing in sophistication like any other technology. Audiences, too, are evolving. Demographics are shifting. Attitudes are changing.

Are marketers talking about this, too? They should be.

The forgotten half of the metaverse

Before contemplating those traditional-yet-still-evolving channels, remember that even when people talk about just the metaverse alone, marketers can have tunnel vision and forget it is a collection of technologies in itself.

Lamentably, they neglect the idea that, if defined correctly, the metaverse is not only inside a machine but is present in the outside world as digital layers over real life. For this reason, augmented reality (AR) is a far more realistic long-term bet than virtual reality.

But if AR is the missing half of the metaverse, there’s a whole bunch of other media channels whose evolution continues in the background, drowned out by the cacophony of commentary on the M-word—channels we all grew up with but, after a tech infusion, are now sprawling and accelerating and complexifying.

Here are three other things brands and marketers should also be talking about.

AI and synthetic media

For a start, there have been great leaps in artificial intelligence’s (AI) melding with A/V technology. In audio, beyond Amazon Echo and Siri, voice tech continues to develop as an accompaniment and augmentation to the written word. In the U.K., the BBC is working on Project Songbird, an initiative to build a proprietary AI “narrator” that can read out BBC written content—for instance, the news to people on the move.

This is more significant than people realize. All written media automatically becomes audio media, doubling its potential to be consumed and opening up media occasions previously not possible. For instance, you can’t read the news headlines whilst you’re jogging, but you can listen to an AI narrator read them to you.

If AR is the missing half of the metaverse, there’s a whole bunch of other media channels whose evolution continues in the background.

—Phil Rowley, head of futures EMEA, Omnicom Media Group

Elsewhere, we’re also witnessing the emergence of synthetic media. In audio, this can mean eerily accurate voice-overs from “virtual artists” that exist inside a computer only. But this tech also extends to video.

Tech companies can now use AI to provide reprogrammable lip-synching and facial animation to deliver “performances” that never happened. Star Wars spin-offs The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett demonstrated this to great effect most recently, using synthetic technology to recreate a near-perfect 80s-era Luke Skywalker.

In marketing, synthetic media can turbo-charge dynamic creative optimization, enabling a mind-boggling suite of personalized messaging permutations—except without the need to actually film or record thousands of individual lines. Or even have the actor show up.

Sustainable media

It’s notable the ad industry seems to be more obsessed with the creation of virtual worlds than with the destruction of the real one. If the ad industry was as aroused with sustainable media as it is the metaverse, we could see more laudable outcomes for planet Earth.

Nevertheless, in the U.K., #ChangeTheBrief Alliance and Ad Net Zero are exemplary initiatives designed to help the media, marketing and advertising industry temper its contribution to consumerism and consumption by shifting consumer behavior towards sustainability. Moreover, it is an industry attempting to get its own house in order.

Tools like carbon calculators are a brilliant way of better understanding the relative impacts of certain channels, allowing brands to make a more careful choice of the media mix in their plans. There are also media formats and channels that actually neutralize pollution, including solar-powered bus shelter ads and pollutant absorbing billboards.

But how many brands firing off hurried emails to their agency to find out more about the metaverse are also sending emails requesting to know the carbon footprint of their media plan?

Demographic disruption

We spend a great deal of time salivating over the tech and channels that future consumers will use, but do we spend enough time considering the changing demographic breakdown of those consumers?

It’s possible we are heading for a demographic disruption, with people living longer and staying healthier, with fewer people being born at the bottom of the population pyramid to replace its aging apex. In short, there will soon be more grandparents than grandchildren in the world.

Consequently, we are heading for a society populated by older people. This is an issue no one is talking about in respect to marketing and advertising.

This is potentially far more seismic a shift than the introduction of the metaverse. Ad agencies and marketers, formerly fascinated with youth and vitality as a way of creating aspirational associations for their brands, may find they have to get a new and deeper understanding of the needs of an ever-aging consumer base. Products and services may have to adapt as “the grey market” becomes “the market,” with everything else merely a satellite demo or niche audience.

A balanced view

It’s not that the metaverse won’t be important. We know it will be. Rather, marketers should reserve an extra portion of that passion and curiosity for other channels and behaviors that could be just as impactful.

Don’t let the noise of the coolest thing drown out the most useful thing. Or, in other words, the metaverse may be the loudest stage at the festival, but it’s not the only band playing.