Advertisers Are Dreaming Of The Metaverse – But Digital Is Still Broken

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Gavin Dunaway, product marketing lead, The Media Trust. 

Call it “metaverse mania.”

Brand advertisers are so excited about the opportunities to engage with consumers in the metaverse. The trade sites and conference circuit are filled with wonder over what the metaverse might hold, from virtual workspaces for remote working to avatar dressing rooms for clothing retailers.

But platforms and publisher reactions are more … “meh.” Much of this metaverse talk feels familiar. What’s really changed since all those “virtual reality advertising” conference demos and experimental campaigns from the early 20-teens?

A key reason for this captivation is that the current digital media landscape is a mess. User experience is beyond poor; it’s treacherous, with malware and scams at all-time highs. How do you expect a consumer to engage with some piece of creative when they’re just hoping to escape virus-free?

As consumer expectations for digital privacy and safety are rising fast, the media industry should be concentrating on cleaning up our current digital environments before mucking up the metaverse. It’s time to refocus on consumers, offering them a safe and attractive environment with relevant ads rather than a wasteland full of objectionable ones. This is what will reignite advertiser interest in digital media instead of shiny objects like the metaverse.

Getting serious about brand safety 

Brand safety is critical to overhauling the current digital morass. Previous keyword-driven approaches were not only depriving publishers of revenue; they were restricting advertiser reach, causing them to miss out on key audiences and opportunities. This was glaring during the beginning of the pandemic. But technologies and methodologies are rapidly evolving – more consultative approaches from service providers are aiding both publishers and advertisers.

And publishers have to think about brand safety as much as advertisers. Defending their own brands means protecting their extremely valuable audiences from various threats. Ransomware is now affecting consumers at scale, and malware delivered via the ad pipes to digital publisher apps and websites is a key channel for these major attacks. The amount of malware in the digital ecosystem has grown fivefold since 2016, and new malware incidents (each of which account for thousands of individual events) grew 30% in 2021 alone. Online scams targeting vulnerable consumers exploded in 2021, growing 63% during the year.

With widespread programmatic adoption, publishers lost a lot of control over the content of the ads appearing on their properties. To protect their brands, publishers need to employ tools to find and stop threats before they hit consumer screens. AI is aiding them greatly in identifying and neutralizing malvertising. It’s also a central tool for flagging sensitive ad content, with subject matter as diverse as adult products, cryptocurrency, gambling, alcohol, marijuana and inflammatory political creative.

Reignite the digital spark

According to Digiday Research, 80% of digital publishers don’t see a future for their businesses in the metaverse. It’s easy to sympathize – the widely spread visions of the metaverse revolve around social networking, gaming, working collaboratively and shopping. In fact, at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in early February, GroupM CEO Kirk McDonald even jokingly called Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous metaverse introductory video “the second life of Second Life.”

But what about media consumption? Do you need to be in the metaverse to listen to a podcast? Watch a movie? Read a how-to article? There’s a great deal of media consumption where our current digital environments are optimal.

The problem is our current digital environments have lost their luster, mainly because the constant clamoring for more revenue has drowned-out catering to consumer experiences. To get brand advertisers’ heads out of the metaverse clouds, we need to refocus on rebuilding consumer trust and ensuring their safety.  

Follow Gavin Dunaway (@MediaTrustGavin), The Media Trust (@TheMediaTrust) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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