On October 28, 2021, Facebook surprised high-tech by announcing it was changing its name to Meta and that the company intended to conquer the Metaverse.
This is a bold move. Facebook is the second largest social media company behind Google (Twitter is a very distant third) and its brand, a direct result of its power and profitability, a mighty force. It also owns Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus VR, the company that makes all those 3D gaming goggles you loudly hinted you wanted for Father’s Day, used twice, then never picked up again (you know who you are).
The name change represents an attempt to recategorize Facebook from being a social media company to a virtual world megalopolis. Facebook no longer wants to lead the world in stored online cat videos; instead, when you think Meta you should be focusing on building virtual buildings inhabited and staffed by flying elves (I’m sure they’ll offer a nice assortment of other avatars). This is a risky proposition; repositioning programs of this type are among the most difficult and expensive marketing programs a company can undertake. If Facebook blows it, the company risks losing billions in sales, advertising revenue, and brand equity.
In our book and course on company and product positioning for high-tech companies, we refer to the strategy Meta is executing as “Sweep the Board.” It’s defined as:
The most grandiose of all recategorization strategies. Usually only a large company can attempt to pull it off. A Sweep the Board strategy is an attempt to proclaim that the current rules are now obsolete, and that everything, including market share, is now up for grabs.
The question everyone is asking is “Why?” Typically, a large company only changes its name and overall business strategy when its facing massive setbacks and a major loss of market share and profitability. Facebook’s current financials don’t indicate the company faces these problems; its 2021 revenues were $112.3B, a 42% increase year-over-year. Money doesn’t seem to be the problem. So why the Zuckerverse?
What is the Metaverse?
If you don’t know what the Metaverse is, it’s for one of two reasons. The first is you’re too young to remember the first mass market system that introduced the concept to the market. The second is Facebook picked a name it knew you’re too young to remember so that Mark Zuckerberg could build a new product based on other people’s ideas, something he’s demonstrated he’s good at.
The fastest, most accessible answer to the question is to visit this site:
Are you there? Good! Now, open an account. It will only take a minute. Remember, an elf is always a safe choice for an avatar!
Now spend some time online wandering about the place. Second Life was released to the market in 2003, more than a generation ago, and has had millions of inhabitants; the current count is just below a million or so. It’s a pretty stable environment offering opportunities to buy real estate, attend meetings, ecommerce, special interest groups, games, in world purchases, headset support, look like an elf, etc.
That’s the metaverse.
There are other metaverses, of course. Take Nintendo’s Switch. It’s a universe in a box and you can invite friends and relatives to visit your box and they can visit yours. I’ve done this once. It felt like sitting through a family vacation slide show. Switch has all the features the other metaverses have, and yes, you can look like an elf. Just like Princess Zelda. (And don’t give that me she’s a Hylian nonsense. I’ve seen those ears. That’s an elf.)
There are game metaverses as well. The first major commercial gameverse was Ultima Online, introduced in 1997. With its Activision Blizzard purchase, Microsoft just bought the most commercially successful gameverse to date, “World of Warcraft.” Same features. No shortage of elves. (You may be perceiving a pattern here.)
What’s Wrong With the Metaverse?
It’s not new. The metaverse is about as up-to-date as Windows 95. To prove this, all you need to do is watch this video. Starring Mark Zuckerberg, it’s an excellent example of why most CEO’s should be off camera:
See anything on this you can’t do on Second Life? Nintendo? Even WoW? (You may have to wear armor at some of the virtual meetings) No? That’s because there isn’t. But in 2002, this ad would have knocked them dead.
- It’s a visualization disaster. Visualization is key component of product positioning. In the Positioning Workbook, I explain what it is this way:For software, a critical categorization element is “visualization.” As noted, software products and systems are abstractions by their nature and the fastest way to explain an abstraction is by connecting it in some way to the corporeal and physical.
The Facebook ad breaks new ground in creating a visualization mess. The problem isn’t that prospects can’t “see” the metaverse. The ad’s lame, cheesy graphics, dumb dialog, and stupid plot that reads like outtakes from Ready Player One, (which was also lame) make that impossible. The issue is that as the annoying avatars float and talk onscreen, most people would rather interact with the animatronics from a Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre show. (And could someone obtain help for the suffering rabid dog running around in the background?) There is a total visual mismatch between a “business” metaverse, which is what Facebook wants you to invest in, and a gaming environment. This ad is the high-tech equivalent of Hamlet: The Musical!
Chuck E. Cheese vs. Mark Zuckerberg. Who will YOU pick?
- It’s incredibly overpriced (for potential merchants.) Wana sell virtual stuff on the meta system? The vig will cost you 47.5% upfront. Zounds! (Well, that’s what they say. I don’t think that price will be anywhere within the bounds of reality. Even Apple only asks for 30%.)
- It’s not technically feasible. Zuckerberg’s “vision” of the metaverse is the Theranos of virtual reality. And please, could all of you Elon Musk fanboys on Quora stop asking me about Neuralink? Neuralink does not work. It will never work until we understand how the brain encodes and transmits data. In this respect, the brain remains a black box. And yes, Oculus technology does work, but it’s incredibly limited. All you can experience with “modern” VR is vision and limited sound. No taste, smell, touch, proprioception, nociception and about a dozen others you don’t hear much about. All while wearing a large clunky plastic mask that looks like the face hugger in Alien.
- There are big competitors already in the space. No, not Second Life (which should tell you something). But Microsoft and Nintendo are already there and already making money. With games. For a quarter of century+
Why the Metaverse?
Because, as I describe in In Search of Stupidity: Over 40 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters under Zuckerberg’s leadership, Facebook’s positive brand equity began turning toxic before the 2020 election. Zuckerberg completed the job after Biden’s election. toxic. He achieved this by:
- Spilling the privacy beans on 530 million of its users in 2021.
- Jumping into Woke culture like the fat drunk at your party who insists on cannon balling into any open body of water in your house, including your kid’s wading pool. Facebook’s reward for kissing progressive rear end has been to be accused by people such as Frances Haugen of making America’s teen girls feel bad about their appearance and dates. I thought we had the Kardashians and baby drag queen courses to do that.
- Dumping $420 billion dollars during the 2020 presidential election into a “get out the vote” effort targeting swing states operations. Ostensibly “non-partisan,” approximately 90% of the funds went directly or indirectly into Democratic coffers. To show their appreciation for Zuckerberg’s civic enthusiasm, over two dozen states have introduced bills banning such funding in the future and are busily investigating just how much of this was legal. A new term, “Zuckerbucks,” has been born into the political lexicon and when the Republicans regain control of Congress later this year, you’re going to hear a lot more about them.
- Disappearing legitimate political stories such as the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, which features naked hookers, a naked Hunter Biden, meth pipes, and a cameo by someone called “The Big Guy” (we never see his face onscreen). I’d watch a metaverse ad based on that!
- Collaborating with the Biden White House to shut down Facebook accounts (conservative) the Biden administration doesn’t like. The new excuse for this censorship is “misinformation,” which is replacing that old reliable, “hate speech.” The problem with this tactic is that everyone now knows exactly whose “misinformation” is the target of most suppression and censorship efforts.
- Censoring conservative books and publications. This is a growing aspect of Facebook’s operations which has flown mostly under the radar. For example, upon its release, Facebook refused to allow advertising for historian Joe Cribbs book Old Abe, a novelization of Lincoln’s last five years as president. A wonderfully written and non-partisan book (unless you’re rooting for the Confederacy), Facebook shut down Old Abe’s ad campaign because then Vice President Mike Pence wrote a favorable blurb for the book.
To show this wasn’t an accident, in January, 2021, Facebook shut down the account of conservative children’s book publisher Heroes of Liberty. The company’s catalog includes titles about President Reagan and Supreme Court Justices Thomas Sowell and Amy Coney Barret. When news of the suppression went viral, Facebook announced the whole thing was a big mistake and reinstated the account. No one believes this excuse anymore.
As a result of the aforementioned and much, much more, Facebook is now distrusted by large and growing swathes of the country and all of the Republican party, which is entering a period of political ascendance. The suffering the company will undergo will be painful and include torments such as:
- Loss of CDA 230 protection from liability for slander, libel and defamation suits, (Twitter, Google, and others will be joining Facebook in having this Crown of Legal Thorns jammed down on their operations.) The ultimate result of this will be the transfer of billions of dollars from Facebook’s coffers to the lawyers’.
- The unleashing of Lina Khan, the Hammer of High-Tech. Haven’t heard of Lina? Pick up a copy of In Search of Stupidity for an introduction. You’re going to be hearing more about her soon.
- A wave of congressional investigations, hearings, depositions, and new laws and regulations not seen since the U.S. government broke up Standard Oil. The fun starts on precisely November, 9th, 2022, the day after the mid-term elections.
With all this to look forward to, Facebook wants to move the conversation along to something else. Anything else. Facebook hopes it can toss all the bad karma it’s generated since 2016 into the maw of the metaverse, where it presumably will be compressed into an irretrievable singularity.
Is the Metaverse Worth It?
Instead of me pressing my opinion on you, let’s first ask an expert. Here’s what Dave Kelly, chief executive officer and founder at AnalyticsIQ has to say:
Facebook’s recent rebrand to Meta proves the immersive world of AR and VR is upon us, further blurring the edges of reality and what people understand today. For marketers and advertisers, this [makes it more important to have] rich data [that provides] insight into not only who people are and what they do, but also — and perhaps most importantly — the ‘why’ driving their decisions. Gone are the days of relying on traditional demographic or behavior-based audiences for targeted display campaigns. The Meta brand represents a need to leverage predictive and contextual audiences rooted in cognitive psychology that go beyond age and gender and speak to the hearts and minds of individuals in order to invoke a response.
A careful reading of this analysis uncovers three key points:
- Metaverse happy happy joy joy.
- All is for the best in this the best of all possible metaverses.
- Marvelous the metaverse is because the metaverse is marvelous.
If you prefer more details, rewatch the metaverse ad (the bleeding in your eyes should have stopped by now). Now, identify a single thing in the narrative which adds any business value to any of the activities and events depicted. Do you want to hold a product marketing meeting with a robot with glowing eyes holding a card deck? Discuss revenue expectations with a floating CFO? Conduct a system technical review while watching the writhing tentacles of a piece of augmented reality street art? Or maybe that’s just a Pokémon Go escapee from 2016. (Pokémon is a Japanese video game first introduced in 1996, about the same time as Windows 95. You may detect another pattern here.)
The state is now set for another high-tech positioning disaster with the potential to surpass IBM’s OS/2 catastrophe and the Microsoft’s Windows 8 debacle (both covered in the latest edition of Stupidity). Facebook apparently believes that its future lies in building server farms that will not only allow you to upload an infinite number of cat videos, but also enable you to make them look like Japanese Hello Kitty (ハロー・ キテ)ィ) animes.
But six months in, things are not looking good for Meta. No buzz. Sales of Oculus units certainly aren’t exploding through the roof. And that disastrous ad has disappeared from the search engines. And now we’ve been told that we shouldn’t really expect the whole shebang to really launch till the 2030s.
Maybe what Mark needs are some better ideas to steal. That was a specialty of Steve Jobs, and it certainly worked out for him! Well, I’ve got one and I think it’s a perfect fit to the metaverse. We’ll dig into it in an upcoming issue.
But sorry, there will be no flying talking robots.