What Gen Z really thinks of advertisers in the metaverse

One respondent in a new Vice/Razorfish study admitted that "when you see brands in a game, you want to indulge in them."


By Will Novosedlik

If you are of a certain age, the idea of spending a significant chunk of your time in an alternate virtual universe seems like shameless escapism. But if you are Gen Z, that’s exactly why you want to go there.

Let’s not be too hard on the youthful demo. Just because some older folk aren’t into gaming, that doesn’t mean they’re not into escapism. In this regard, the generations aren’t that much different. Going to the mall is escapism. Watching TV is escapism. A week at a couples resort is escapism. We all live in glass houses.

But back to the topic at hand, according to a recent study by marketing transformation consultancy Razorfish and media company Vice, Gen Z is growing up in the metaverse, where they are being shaped by their engagement in virtual events, AR and gaming.

The Razorfish/Vice study uses gaming as a gateway to understanding how the metaverse, or Web3, might develop. It fully acknowledges that the metaverse is still just a twinkle in the internet’s eye, but there are enough people engaged in the immersive experience of gaming to provide insights as to what we can expect as this parallel universe evolves.

The study is built around seven key insights.

Take Insight #1: the metaverse makes space for self-exploration. The study found that 52% of Gen Zers feel most able to be their complete selves when inside a game. One respondent, a Gen Z male, commented that while in game he has very little anxiety compared to real life. In fact, he met his girlfriend there and claimed he would never have had the courage to approach her in the real world.

A non-binary Gen Z respondant also said that having an online persona increased their confidence and made them more willing to express themselves in person and take social risks they would not typically take.

Sounds like life definitely imitates art in the metaverse. As proof, 52% of respondents feel that the online world influences who they are in the “real” world. One Gen Zer said his avatar is a truer version of who he is “because it shows what I’m really made of.” One hopes he’s not playing Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto when he says that.

Insight #2 – “the metaverse cultivates connection” – is supported by the fact that Gen Z spends twice as much time hanging out with friends in the metaverse than in real life. This demo spends about 12 hours a week in game.

Insight #3 claims that Gen Z believes gaming improves their mental health. In what way, you ask? By releasing stress and anxiety. A full 56% of respondents said gaming is an escape from the real world.

Insight #4 states that the metaverse extends their reality. As one respondent commented, “I just want to do something that I haven’t done or may not do in the regular world.” When asked what things Gen Z wants to experience in the metaverse, the top three responses were making money (52%), meeting new people (47%), and bonding with friends (39%). Number 13 on that list was to get married there (11%). Hey, weddings are expensive.

Insight #5 is what marketers are beginning to salivate over: Gen Zers buy virtual goods for their virtual experiences. Such purchases account for 15% of their “fun budget,” and by 2027 that number is expected to rise to 20%. One respondent said, “My virtual possessions are just as important as my real-life possessions.”

If that has marketers salivating, then insight #6 will put them in a state of unalloyed joy: brands are welcome in the metaverse. Another said “brands make the metaverse feel real.” And yet another: “Brands don’t interfere with the game at all. I think it’s actually pretty cool to see them there.”

This is the exact opposite of how most people feel about brands in other more established media environments, like TV or on YouTube or OOH. The metaverse may soon be overrun by digital billboards.

The final insight #7 will surprise no one: data privacy is a persistent issue. But while 70% of Gen Xers feel this way, only 63% of Gen Zers have the same concerns. Is this because Gen Zers have accepted the unwritten rules of surveillance capitalism and are happy to keep their kimonos open to the all-seeing eyes of the internet? Judging by a lot of TikTok videos, there’s a strong case to be made for that.

In his seminal text on visual culture, Ways of Seeing, the great social critic John Berger said that advertising “is judged not by the real fulfillment of its promises, but by the relevance of its fantasies to those of the consumer.” If you agree with that, then get your strategy on, because the fantasy world of the metaverse may just be the best placement an ad ever had.