Meta and the Metaverse: What Facebook’s Rebrand Means For Marketers in 2022
At this point, most marketers have heard about Facebook changing its name to Meta. The rebrand made headlines for weeks after the initial announcement in October 2021, bringing heightened awareness to the concept of the metaverse and questions on what the new name meant for the future.
Now, about three months after the change, the impact of Facebook’s rebrand is becoming clearer. Here is our breakdown of Meta and the metaverse, the criticism and concerns surrounding the changes, and what it all means for marketers in this upcoming year.
Meta, as explained by Facebook
Facebook’s rebrand was introduced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company’s Connect 2021 event on October 28th. The name change to “Meta” applied only to the parent company (not the social media app) and was meant to better reflect the company’s current operations and goals. Additionally, the company began trading under a new stock ticker, MVRS, on December 1st.
As a press release stated, Meta “brings together [Facebook’s] apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.” In short, the rebrand marked its public shift from being a social media company to a metaverse company.
Internally, the new name was not accompanied by any change in its corporate structure. However, Meta did announce that it was changing how it reports its financials. Since the fourth quarter of 2021, the company began reporting on two separate operating segments: Family of Apps—Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus, etc.—and Reality Labs, which focuses on investing in VR and AR technologies that are key to fueling the company’s metaverse vision.
Hold on—What exactly is the metaverse?
Heralded as the next evolutionary stage of the internet, the metaverse is a vague and complex concept. While the term isn’t new—it was first coined in the 1992 dystopian novel “Snow Crash”—the metaverse is still merely in its conceptual stages and far from being a mainstream reality.
Because there are several visions of what the metaverse is, it’s hard to clearly define. Personally, I’ve noticed a clear difference between how media and brands talk about the metaverse and what the term means for technology experts.
When brands make headlines for taking their “first steps into the metaverse,” the news typically refers to the creation of virtual worlds or assets. Nike, for instance, launched its own platform on Roblox called Nikeland, while P&G Beauty debuted a virtual storytelling world called BeautySphere. In this context, the metaverse could be interpreted as all aspects of a virtual world that users can access and interact with in real-time, especially for socialization.
While metaverse-supporting technologies, assets, and platforms currently exist, the metaverse itself would not be in full effect until it’s as pervasive as the internet.
And yet, these kinds of virtual worlds have been around for years. Second Life, where people create avatars, explore the world, and interact with other users, was launched nearly twenty years ago in 2003, for example. Why, then, is the metaverse spoken about as if it’s the future? Because the other—arguably, more accurate—definition of the term refers to an anticipated reality that doesn’t yet exist.
For tech visionaries, the metaverse is a post-internet world where virtual, immersive environments mirror and extend reality. Through a combination of AR, VR, and mixed reality, people would be able to seamlessly move from the physical world to the virtual world for all kinds of social and business engagements. In other words, your existence would have a virtual equivalent, with your online and offline activity inextricably linked.
So, while metaverse-supporting technologies, assets, and platforms currently exist, the metaverse itself would not be in full effect until it’s as pervasive as the internet. Making that a reality, then, is what Meta hopes to do moving forward.
Criticism of Meta and concerns over the metaverse
Neither Facebook’s rebrand to Meta nor the concept of the metaverse has been met with entirely positive reactions.
For one, the timing of Facebook’s name change was suspicious, with 51% of U.S. adults thinking that “Meta rebranded in order to distance itself from negative press,” according to a survey shortly after the announcement. Indeed, the rebrand came amid intense scrutiny over Facebook’s role in political polarization, its privacy and data policies, and the toxic effect its social media apps have on the mental health of young users.
Meta subsequently denied claims that the news cycle was behind their decision to announce the new name. Still, with the change occurring just days after the 60 Minutes interview of whistleblower Frances Haugen was released, it’s not surprising that the rebrand came across as an attempt to divert attention from the negative buzz.
At the same time, the criticism that Meta faces is well aligned with overarching concerns about the metaverse itself.
Concerns about the metaverse’s effect on data privacy are front and center in discussions about its future.
Concerns about the metaverse’s effect on data privacy are front and center in discussions about its future. Because access is dependent on VR and AR technology via headsets or smart glasses, there are concerns that users’ physical responses could be collected as data and used to manipulate users or shared with third parties.
According to Kavya Pearlman, founder of the XR Safety Initiative, “At any given time, the way you move, the way your gait is, the way you’re gazing, your pupil dilation, is giving away information to developers.” Without updated data privacy laws and platform transparency, there’s concern that the metaverse’s ability to “turn your body into a data collection tool” could be exploited by companies.
There are also questions regarding what needs to be done to mitigate harmful content and environments that may be created in the metaverse, as well as how the new technology will affect our mental health. For instance, will the disconnect between an imperfect reality and an idealized virtual world end up worsening real-world anxiety or improving interpersonal connections?
To their credit, Meta seems to be fully aware of these concerns, pledging $50 million toward external research focused on privacy and security solutions meant to help “responsibly” build the metaverse. Given the company’s track record of data abuses, though, expect there to be plenty of scrutinizing eyes on Meta’s next moves.
Into the future: marketing and the metaverse in 2022
Despite such concerns and criticisms, the metaverse continues to generate buzz even now. If anything, Facebook’s name change to Meta seems to have shined an even brighter light onto the concept.
While the metaverse is far from being fully developed and mainstream (See: Facebook Hosted Three Huge Concerts in the Metaverse and They Seriously Flopped), high-profile interest and investment does make it worth keeping an eye on. Rather than be blindsided by its potential domination in the future, being aware of how the metaverse is unfolding will help marketers determine their involvement in its development.
It’s all about knowing your audience: Not everyone is buying into the “vision” of the metaverse, but there are segments that welcome it.
Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your audience. Not everyone is buying into the “vision” of the metaverse, but there are segments that welcome it. Younger demographics, especially those who are familiar with AR and VR technology or are already immersed in virtual world games like Roblox and Fortnite, may soon expect brands to enter the metaverse.
In a bid to attract younger shoppers, for example, Ralph Lauren joined Roblox and metaverse platform Zepeto, offering virtual branded apparel that shoppers could dress their avatars in. After just a few weeks, the brand sold more than 100,000 units on Zepeto. When it comes to “plugged-in” consumers who are hard to reach through traditional channels, entering the virtual world can be a great way to engage with them.
Since we’re still in the early stages, the return on investment of the metaverse is still to be determined, so be prepared for high risk and unpredictability. Early entrants may have the first-mover advantage, but organizations can also benefit from carefully studying the dos and don’ts of those initial efforts. The bottom line? When it comes to the metaverse, pay attention and be ready for anything.
Photo by Giu Vicente