There’s a scene in the 2018 film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, where chief protagonist and head of Innovative Online Industries Nolan Sorrento, is eagerly outlining his vision for adverting once his company takes over the OASIS, the Metaverse in Cline’s novel. “We estimate we can sell up to 80% of an individual’s visual field before inducing seizures”, Sorrento exclaims, outlining moneymaking plans to roll-back OASIS advertising restrictions.
For those of you who have seen Ready Player One, news that Meta (formerly Facebook) have signed a deal with VNTANA, a US-based social augmented reality company and “industry leader in 3D eCommerce technology”, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This comes despite the launch of a formal antitrust investigation by the European Commission to assess whether an agreement between Google and Meta for online display advertising services may have breached EU competition rules.
As part of the deal VNTANA has been granted alpha access to Meta’s AR (augmented reality) Publishing API (application programming interface). This will make it easier for brands to run three-dimensional advertisements on Facebook and Instagram and provide brands with “a new, interactive way to bring their products to Meta apps and connect with their customers online, creating a more immersive shopping experience for the online consumer.”
Display advertising isn’t a new thing, in fact it’s over 27 years old. The first online advertisement was published on HotWired.com – now better known as Wired.com – in October 1994. It simply read: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL”. It was part of an AT&T marketing campaign focused on “futuristic technological wonders”, like being able to talk to a friend via video on a phone, or being able to borrow books from libraries thousands of miles away. Over four months, 44% of those who saw the advert clicked on it and were directed to a tour of some of the world’s greatest museums.
Looking beyond Facebook and Instagram, it’s easy to imagine Meta’s Horizon Worlds start to fill up with advertising and product placement. It might develop slowly at first, like Elliot using a trail of Reese’s Pieces to lure the alien into his house in 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, before moving onto brand-driven games – think Cheeto’s Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool and 7 Up’s Cool Spot – before moving on to the full-blown advertising we experience in the physical world.
Or perhaps Meta, like Nolan Sorrento, head of a fictional global telecommunications conglomerate and the world's largest Internet service provider, will move straight to the end game?