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Deception vs authenticity: Why the metaverse changes marketing forever

Marketing in the metaverse concept image created by Louis Rosenberg using DALL-E

Image developed by Louis Rosenberg using DALL-E

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If we remove the hype, the metaverse could be defined as the large-scale societal shift from flat media viewed in the 3rd person to immersive media experienced in the initial person. While this hones the idea right down to just its core features, the implications remain profound. Thats because the metaverse will fundamentally change the role of an individual from an outsider peering directly into a dynamic participant having firsthand experiences.

The rapidly approaching shift to immersive media will impact nearly every industry, but few will undoubtedly be transformed as dramatically as marketing. Thats as the tools, techniques, and tactics of digital advertising are rooted in flat images, documents, and videos. In the metaverse, the core marketing techniques changes to immersive experiences which are a lot more natural, personal, and interactive. This can hold true in both virtual and augmented worlds.

The Metaverse represents the largescale shift in digital media from flat content viewed in the 3rd person to immersive content experienced in the initial person.

Due to the deeply personal nature, Immersive Marketing gets the potential to be a lot more persuasive than traditional methods. In addition, it poses significant risks to consumers, as immersive tactics can simply be abused through predatory practices. In the paragraphs below I describe both core techniques more likely to dominate marketing in the metaverse, Virtual Product Placements and Virtual Spokespeople, outlining the uses of every and the dangers which could emerge.

Virtual Product Placements (VPPs)

In the metaverse, advertisements will undoubtedly be deployed as promotional artifacts and activities which are injected into immersive environments with respect to paying sponsors. These VPPs will undoubtedly be narrowly directed at individual users, meaning they’ll be encountered by specific people at specific times and places. For instance, if you’re a sports fan of a specific age and income level, you may visit a simulated person walking in your area outside (in a virtual or augmented world) wearing a shirt that promotes a high-end sports bar two blocks before you.

A picture containing text, person, outdoor, sidewalk

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Image developed by Louis Rosenberg using Midjourney

Because this can be a targeted VPP, others around you’ll not start to see the same promotional content. Instead, users in your area will encounter different promotional artifacts customized with their profiles. An adolescent might see people drinking a specific brand of soda, while a kid might visit a band of kids using a specific toy. A few of these encounters may be highly stylized, while some will undoubtedly be so accurately built-into the virtual or augmented world, that they can not be easily distinguished as advertisements. VPPs can therefore be thought as follows:

Virtual Product Placement (VPP) is really a simulated product, service, or activity injected into an immersive world (virtual or augmented) with respect to a paying sponsor so that it appears to an individual being an integrated component of the ambient environment.

Such advertising can be hugely impactful because consumers will encounter the promotional content as organic experiences built-into their lifestyle. For exactly the same reasons, VPPs likewise have the potential to be abused by advertisers or even regulated. Thats because Virtual Product Placements can be so realistic and well-integrated into immersive worlds they could easily be recognised incorrectly as authentic experiences a user serendipitously encounters. If users cannot easily distinguish between authentic experiences and targeted promotional content, advertising in the metaverse could easily become predatory, deceiving users into believing that specific products, services, or activities are popular within their community (virtual or augmented) when actually they’re observing a promotionally altered representation of these surroundings.

Avoiding predatory tactics

Taken up to an extreme, you can imagine walking down a virtual or augmented street filled up with political posters and banners supporting a specific candidate. You may think that this community is highly supportive of this candidate rather than realize that everything you are seeing is targeted propaganda. Actually, you may be entirely unaware that other folks walking on that same street are increasingly being targeted with posters and banners for alternate candidates. This is actually the threat of promotionally altered experiences, since it could amplify social divisions, driving folks from their current information bubbles to entirely separate but parallel realities.

Therefore, consumers ought to be protected from predatory uses of virtual product placements in the metaverse. A straightforward but powerful protection is always to require that VPPs look visually distinct from organic experiences. For instance, in case a virtual product is positioned in your surroundings as a targeted advertisement, that product ought to be visually distinct so that it can’t be confused with authentic artifacts that you serendipitously encounter. Exactly the same holds true for injected activities along with other targeted promotional experiences that may be confused by consumers.

If regulations are placed set up to require visual distinctions, consumers can easily tell the difference between authentic encounters and promotionally altered experiences. That is obviously best for consumers, but its also best for the, for without such protections users may likely cease to trust anything they encounter in the metaverse as authentic.

Virtual Spokespeople (VSPs)

In the metaverse, promotional content will exceed inanimate objects or silent characters to AI-driven avatars that engage users in promotional conversation with respect to paying sponsors. While such capabilities seemed out of reach just a couple years back, recent breakthroughs in neuro-scientific Large Language Models (LLMs) and photorealistic avatars make VSPs viable in the near term and apt to be deployed widely in metaverse platforms. It could be thought as follows:

Virtual Spokesperson (VSP) is really a simulated human or other character injected into an immersive world (virtual or augmented) that verbally conveys promotional content with respect to a paying sponsor, often engaging an individual in promotional conversation.

VSPs will probably target users in two distinct but powerful ways (1) by passive observation or (2) by direct engagement. In the passive case, a targeted user might observe two virtual people having a conversation in the metaverse in regards to a product, service, or idea. For instance, a simulated couple could possibly be placed near a targeted consumer in a virtual or augmented establishment. The mark may assume they are ordinary users, not realizing a alternative party injected those virtual people in to the environment as a subtle type of advertising.

For instance, the targeted user might overhear the couple discussing a fresh car they purchased, touting the features and benefits. An individual might perceive those comments as authentic views of other users rather than agenda-driven promotional content. Similar tactics could possibly be used to mention any promotional message from touting services and products to delivering political propaganda, as well as overt disinformation. And because metaverse platforms will probably collect detailed profile data about each user, the overheard conversation could easily be algorithmically crafted to trigger very specific thoughts, feelings, interests, or discontent in targeted users.

Persuasive (however, not undercover) VSPs

Therefore, regulation is highly recommended to safeguard consumers from predatory tactics. At the very least, regulators should think about requiring that promotional VSPs be visually distinct from authentic users (or avatars controlled by authentic users). This might prevent consumers from confusing overheard conversations which are targeted promotions with authentic and unaltered observations of these world.

Needless to say, VSPs will undoubtedly be most persuasive when directly engaging consumers in promotional conversations. The verbal exchange could possibly be so authentic, an individual may not realize they’re talking with an AI-driven conversational avatar with a pre-planned persuasive agenda. As stated above, recent advances in LLMs have made authentic conversations with AI agents viable in the near term, particularly when discussing casual topics.

Furthermore, its vital that you stress these AI-driven conversational agents may likely get access to detailed profile data collected by metaverse platforms about each targeted user, including their preferences, interests, and a historical record of prior promotional engagements. These AI agents may also get access to real-time emotional data from facial expressions, vocal inflections, and vital signs of targeted users. This can enable the AI agent to regulate its conversational tactics in real-time for optimal persuasion.

Custom crafted VSPs

Even the visual form where these AI-driven virtual spokespeople are presented will undoubtedly be custom crafted for maximum persuasion. Chances are that the gender, hair color, eye color, clothing style, voice and mannerisms of VSPs will undoubtedly be custom generated by AI algorithms that predict which sets of features will most effectively influence the targeted user predicated on their previous interactions and behaviors. I depicted this 14 years back in my own cautionary book concerning the metaverse, Upgrade. The characters in the graphic novel were targeted by VSPs which were designed to look increasingly more sexualized by an AI system that determined the tactic to be an extremely effective type of influence. While this is written as ironic fiction over about ten years ago, without regulation I fear we have been now very near it becoming reality.

For several of the reasons, the prospect of predatory advertising tactics is significant and likely requires regulation. At the very least, regulators should think about requiring that virtual spokespeople be visually distinct from authentic users within immersive environments, thereby alerting people that the conversation is targeted promotional content instead of a geniune encounter. Furthermore, it may be a dangerous practice make it possible for AI systems to custom-target the looks and voice of virtual spokespeople for optimum persuasion on specific users. This kind of AI-driven manipulation ought to be regulated.

Regulation: Imperative

Previously, experts have expressed doubt that AI-generated avatars could successfully fool consumers, but recent research suggests otherwise. In a 2022 study, researchers from The Proceedings of Natural Academy of Sciences showed that whenever virtual folks are made out of generative adversarial networks (GANs), they’re indistinguishable from real humans to average consumers. A lot more surprisingly, they determined that users perceive virtual people as more trustworthy than real people. This shows that in the not distant future, advertisers will prefer AI-driven virtual spokespeople as their promotional representatives.

Whether youre looking towards it or not, the metaverse is coming and can impact society at all levels. Marketing tactics can be deeply immersive and can employ AI technology for optimal persuasion. Therefore, we should consider regulation as a way of protecting consumers from predatory tactics. For instance, regulators should think about requiring that VPPs and VSPs be visually distinct from authentic products, services, and persons in immersive worlds.

I dont arrived at this recommendation lightly, as Ive been involved with virtual and augmented reality for over thirty years, both as a researcher so when a founder of multiple companies. Im a genuine believer in the potential of immersive media. But without meaningful regulation, nothing would protect users from immersive promotional encounters which are recognised incorrectly as authentic experiences.Furthermore, I firmly believe consumer protections will be best for advertisers and platform providers, for without sensible guardrails, users in the metaverse will be struggling to trust the authenticity of any experience.That could damage the at all levels.

Dr. Louis Rosenbergis really a pioneer in the fields of virtual and augmented reality. His work began over thirty years back in labs at Stanford and NASA. In 1992 he developed the initial mixed reality systemat Air Force Research Laboratory.In 1993 he founded the first VR company Immersion Corp (public on Nasdaq). In 2004 he founded the first AR company Outland Research. He’s got been awarded over 300 patents for VR, AR, and AI technologies and happens to be CEO of Unanimous AI, the principle Scientist of the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, and the Global Technology Advisor to the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI).

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