The metaverse as envisioned by Mark Zuckerberg doesn't really exist but there are plenty of online spaces where brands can experiment with three-dimensional immersive spaces, commercial transactions and the sale of digital assets. So how can marketers make the most of the technologies that will underpin the metaverse in the here and now?
Founded in 1972, Argos occupies a unique position in the United Kingdom's retail universe. Unlike most retailers, the company's shops - these days often situated within Sainsbury supermarkets - don't put a full range of goods on display. Instead, customers browse through catalogues in in-store terminals, place their orders and then pick up the goods a few minutes later from a checkout desk.In an era when retailers are being urged to embrace "experience," the Argos approach leans towards utility and convenience. On today's high street it seems faintly anachronistic.
And yet not only is Argos a very popular option with many consumers, but it is also prepared to flirt with the cutting edge of marketing. For instance, the company recently announced plans for the UK's first campaign spanning the physical world and the metaverse. Working in partnership with out-of-home advertising company, Ocean Outdoor and metaverse platform Somnium Space, Argos has created billboards that will appear in real-world locations such as Holland Park Roundabout in London and in immersive 3D environments.The aim is to promote the company's tech products.
It's an example of how brands are beginning to explore new marketing strategies. We may be a long way from an all-singing-all-dancing metaverse, but the underpinning technologies are in place and ripe for experimentation. But what does that mean in practice?Well first and foremost establish what we actually mean by the metaverse. For some, metaverse simply means three-dimensional worlds that can be explored, either with the help of a headset or a flat screen. Online games platforms where players also hang out and socialise possibly meet that definition.
But Nikhil Roy, co-founder of creative agency Swipe Back says that's not the real metaverse. "At the moment the metaverse isn't a reality because we have a lot of spaces that are not connected," he says."The next step is to make them interoperable." Why is that important? Well once walled-garden spaces are connected by blockchain, new possibilities open up. For instance, digital assets such as avatars can not only be sold but also transferred between platforms. Nevertheless, Roy sees plenty of scope for experimentation even now. His agency, which specialises in the metaverse, worked on a recent campaign by car company Dacia, promoting its new electric vehicle.
The campaign was staged on the multiplayer esports platform Rocket League, which has around 40 million players. As Roy explains, a tournament was created within the platform, with participants using electric vehicles. Importantly there was an opportunity for casual players to mix with the elite of the esports world."We had time trials where users could compete against the pros,"he says.In a very different market sector, Swipe Back created a marketing campaign for French cryptocurrency wallet company Ledger.Taking place in The Sandbox - ablockchain space in which users can monetise their gaming using the Ethereum digital currency - the School of Block used a series of quests to teach people about keeping themselves and their assets secure in the cryptocurrency world. This aligned with Ledger's mission to provide a safe digital wallet. "We drew about 100,000 people to the experience." Perhaps more importantly, Roy says there was real engagement. "On average, people spent about twenty minutes on the ledger experience. That is a huge number," he says.The secret is to create something that is truly engaging. It's not enough just to have a digital billboard."
Gaming and Music
As things stand, gaming is central to the development of the metaverse. "Gamers are amongst the earliest adopters of the metaverse and they are motivated by the potential to acquire virtual assets such as in-game items, rewards, and currencies," says Patrik Wilkens, VP of Operations at TheSoul Publishing, an award-winning digital studio that produces a wide range of video entertainment content. Wilkins also points to the importance of music. One of TheSoul Publishing's latest ventures is the creation of a virtual pop star dubbed Polar that recently performed on the Avakin Life interactive 3d world, with audience members joining as avatars.
Both games and music allow brands to associate themselves with experiences that particularly appeal to Generation Z or to buy space on interactive virtual billboards., but there are transactional opportunities too. As Wilkens points out, Polar's appearance on Avakin was monetised by sales of virtual merchandise.
But it's at this point that the limitations of the present-day multiverse come into focus. Yes, Non Fungible Tokens can be sold as collectors' items but other forms of Merchandise, such as avatar skins tend to be platform-specific. People spend large amounts of their hard-earned money on digital assets that turn out worthless in other environments. That's a problem that Ready Player Me is seeking to solve. Essentially, the company enables its users to create avatars and other digital wearables that can be ported from one game to another across the internet. At the moment, its avatars can be used in around 3,000 partner apps and games. It's a precursor of how the Metaverse might work. And brands have taken an interest. For instance, fans of the Tom Hilfiger brand can create a clothed avatar which can be used in any of the apps and games that Ready Player Me is partnered with. Dior also took advantage of the company's technology when launching a new fragrance. Fans of the brand were able to create an avatar and then explore online worlds.
Estonian entrepreneur Sten Tamkivi is a key investor in Ready Player Me and other Web3 ventures. He predicts the emergence of new brands." At the moment, brands are tiptoeing into this space," he says. "But we will see new digital-only brands emerging. Instead of being t-shirt printers, they will be virtual t-shirt makers."As he sees it, brands such as Nike that currently sell virtual goods complementing their physical products will be competing with purely digital rivals. To some extent that is already happening. TheRebels started out as an offshoot of a premium fashion brand but now concentrates on digital wearables. Its goal is to create a platform for virtual fashion. "We will see 3D wearables that are tradable," says founder, Indre Viltrakyte. "This will redefine luxury." Demand will be driven, she says, by the fact that people want to look premium online and off and there is definitely elitism. "Gamers who use free avatars are known by their peers as defaults," she notes.
But that is, perhaps, the future. As things stand, the metaverse is an experimental, but not a totally unfamiliar environment. "It is very easy to measure success," says Roy. "You have to decide what you are setting out to achieve - for instance, conversions or brand awareness - then you can apply the usual metrics, such as impressions or engagement. Wilkens cautions that brands should take a holistic approach. "Brands should first seek to understand where they fit within the metaverse and decide how they want to use it. They could either deliver a solely virtual experience for their audiences or combine them with real-life benefits too," he says. In addition, the metaverse can work in parallel with other channels, notably social media.
Above all, says Roy, to attract users it should be fun.