I first heard about Facebook (now Meta)’s new metaverse commercials via the following tweet by Andrew Woodberry:
This Meta ad ran during tonight’s Notre Dame vs. UVA football game. I’m not even sure Meta knows what “the metaverse” is.
If you happen to have missed this commercial, as I did, and in case you’re curious, here’s the advertisement in full, via the official Meta channel on YouTube:
What is notable about this commercial is that it is not promoting a specific Meta hardware product or platform; it is promoting the idea of the metaverse (and using some surprisingly acid-trip visuals!).
As I predicted, Facebook (sorry, Meta!) is spending a small portion of its billions of dollars in earnings to do a little public relations: to try and implant the idea among the general public that Meta now a metaverse company; and to attempt to distance itself from the now-tarnished Facebook brand.
Here’s another ad in the current campaign (at least this one is for an actual product, the newly-rechristened Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as the Oculus Quest 2):
Jason Aten, a tech columnist with Inc., writes about Meta’s recent round of advertisements in general, and this last video in particular, in a recent editorial titled Facebook’s Ridiculous New Ad Reveals Its Vision of the Metaverse. It’s Everything Wrong with the Company:
If you want people to buy headsets, and Facebook definitely does, you do what companies do and you make an ad. That’s exactly what Facebook did, designed to highlight the Oculus Quest 2.
In it, two men are playing video games in virtual reality using their Oculus Quest headsets. The two men are apparently neighbors, but have no idea. In fact, they don’t even like each other in real life, demonstrated by the closing scene where they yell at each other for making too much noise through the wall.
In the game, however, they are both teammates and friends. They even complain about their bad neighbors, again not realizing they are referring to each other. The ad is meant to be humorous, of course. It’s not, but that’s not even the biggest problem.
The real problem is that Facebook–which now calls itself Meta but is still the same company, with all the same issues–thinks this is a good representation of why you’d want to put on a VR headset and jump in the metaverse. If that’s the case, it’s a brilliant example of everything wrong with the company.
Jason goes on to write:
…the people who are friends don’t even realize they can’t actually stand in each other in real life. They live next door to each other, never interact in real life other than to ignore each other’s small talk in the elevator, or to yell at each other through the wall.
Except, that’s everything that’s wrong with the way people connect online. And Facebook is largely the reason. Over the last decade, Facebook has worked hard to make us think that scrolling through a feed of images and posts from people we are loosely connected to is a substitute for actually engaging with real people.
Not all connections are equal. Following someone on Twitter, or sending a friend request on Facebook doesn’t mean you have a relationship. It doesn’t even mean you know the person in real life. The problem is that we think that we know people because we scroll through an endless feed of carefully curated photos and moments they share.
Part of the problem of eliminating the friction in making those connections online is that it makes it easier to connect with people you don’t actually know. Real relationships–the kind that add actual value to our lives–require proximity, conversations, and physical interaction.
If the metaverse is going to be an amplified version of the kind of relationships people have been building online for years, I’m not sure we’re better off.
In discussing the (in)effectiveness of this advertising campaign on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, somebody made the following insightful observation:
They don’t need the ad to tell anybody anything- everyone is talking about it. The commercial did what it was supposed to do, get people’s attention and put Meta in the public consciousness.
Say the family is gathered together for the game—the less computer savvy family members go “what the heck was that”, then the techies in the family explain it to them, and have the time to get them to understand it better than a 1 minute ad could hope to do. The tactic was to get people to ask the question.
Hmmm, perhaps there is some method to Meta’s madness after all. The commercials are intended to be some sort of a conversation starter. From an experienced metaverse user perspective it’s bonkers, but then, WE (i.e. the hardcore virtual reality and virtual world crowd) are not the target audience here; the broader general public, who knows little to nothing about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, is the target.
And, again I say something I repeat often on this blog, the adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Meta’s continued pouring of profits into this sort of advertising means that many more new people will be introduced to the concepts of the metaverse. In the long run, this is a good thing for all metaverse world builders and content creators, whether or not they are on board with Horizon Workrooms and Horizon Worlds, or use Meta-branded VR hardware like the Quest 2.
In other words, Meta’s recent promotional push is good for everybody—provided that we (the people and companies who are passionate about social VR and virtual worlds) seize and pursue the opportunities which will arise due to this greater metaverse awareness by the general, non-computer-geek public. Everybody wins.
P.S. I wanted to leave you with something which I found extremely clever and amusing. The government of Iceland has brilliantly parodied Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Connect keynote address in the following funny three-minute video: come to the Icelandverse!
Now THAT is the kind of advertising which Meta should aspire to! 😉