Masters of the metaverse

Masters of the metaverse

“I think we’re going to see an explosion of creativity and participation in the metaverse,” predicts Jorge Narváez, EMEA senior vice president and head of creative at brand experience agency George P Johnson. “And this is a world where brands will set up the canvas on which everybody can start to create.”

He argued that, just as social media has allowed users to explore and share their creativity in photography, video or short films, we will see an outpouring of self-expression as more and more people create online avatars and engage with the different experiences that today’s virtual or augmented reality worlds allow. 

Narváez was speaking as part of an expert panel at Campaign’s Brand Experience 360 event, discussing the metaverse’s future role in live events and experiential marketing. Here, we share more insights from the session.  

The first thing to say is that there’s more than one metaverse. “There are many places that could be described as metaverses, which bring people together through technology,” said digital artist and designer Laura Shepherd.

She discussed the examples of Cryptovoxels and Decentraland, where users are already coming together to socialise, trade and attend events and exhibitions in animated digital realms, and Otherside, a gaming metaverse that was so oversubscribed when its virtual property went on sale in April that it crashed the sales platform – though not without selling US$561 million in digital real estate in 24 hours. And that’s without even mentioning Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse.

Many brands are already getting in on the action. “Decentraland already has a lot of big-brand backing, with high-street brands opening up shops and people in hospitality opening restaurants,” Shepherd noted. “Jose Cuevo is planning to open a distillery there, designed by Bompas & Parr.”

It may seem surprising for a drinks company to be embracing a virtual world in which no one can actually taste their products. Not so, said Olaf van Gerwen, co-founder and global creative director of Chuck Studios. “I work with food and drink brands, and in that world, there are a limited number of experiences you can have in the metaverse; you can’t eat, you can’t drink. But we can, and we have, already brought the sensation of eating and drinking to people for decades, through advertising,” he pointed out.

3. It’s all about to get more exciting

For van Gerwen, although there are still many limitations on what we can do (so far) in the metaverse, there are also “massive opportunities” to bring all kinds of brands to the virtual stage.

“At this point, most of my clients build a world where you can interact with the product, or do a gamified version of an ordering experience. But in the future, those experiences will be much more detailed, and connect to wallets and NFTs,” he noted. “Soon, it will be a funnel with full data conversion from consumers to brands.”

4. There’s more to the metaverse than Ready Player One 

Metaverses are about more than all-consuming gaming, argued Rosh Singh, managing director of Unit9. “We’re still at a very early stage, and everyone thinks of the metaverse as a shared gaming world where you plug yourself into a 3D environment,” he says. “That’s taken from the dystopian science fiction that has influenced it, like Snow Crash and Ready Player One.”

As he sees it, our real world is not (yet) in such a bad way that the only respite from bleak reality is to escape into a fully digital realm for 20 hours a day. “For me, the metaverse really is the digital and physical worlds coming together,” he continued. “It’s not just about plugging yourself into a 3D world; it’s also about bringing the digital world out to people.” 

Singh is excited about overlaying digital experiences onto physical experiences to create something greater than either: “I don’t think any digital application of a live event should just recreate it.” He’s inspired by how Nike’s creation of a virtual world, Nikeland, within the Roblox gaming platform is now influencing the brand’s physical events. “Nike will bring avatars, the personification of your digital identity, out of the game and into the live experience. For me, that ticks all the boxes.”

The experts acknowledged there are many reasons why brands are nervous about engaging with the metaverse – from the often less-than-perfect visuals to the reputational risks of joining a world that is very hard to police from a brand-safety perspective. Plus, there’s the experimental quality of investing in virtual worlds that might not exist in five years’ time. 

But they agreed that the possibilities are becoming more exciting as existing VR and AR tech improves, and exciting new technologies begin to emerge. And in our increasingly digital world, we can expect to see the metaverse crossing over from the creative, tech and gaming communities into the mass market.

“Only 1% of people understand what the metaverse is, or what it could be, at this point,” said Narváez. “But if you look at the adoption of video games, those generations are already looking into this technology, and know how to interact with it. They’re ready.” 

As he sees it, the metaverse is simply nothing less than “the next stage in the evolution of communication” – and one that brands would be foolish to ignore for much longer.

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