A few months ago, many of us weren't confident we knew what the word 'metaverse' meant. Thanks primarily to Facebook's rebrand to Meta and the pandemic's acceleration of AR and VR technology, it's become the buzzword of 2022, and marketers are taking notice.
We've already seen luxury brands developing virtual products in the metaverse. In 2021, Gucci partnered with Roblox to create an immersive virtual Gucci Garden experience. In the two weeks it was live; the fashion house released limited edition digital clothing and accessories exclusively on the platform. A move that saw one Gucci Dionysus Bag With Bee sell for more than the physical bag's retail value.
Similarly, luxury fashion houses Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Balenciaga have all collaborated with platforms to bring their clothing into the metaverse and create new customer experiences.
While it may be hard to wrap your head around consumers paying more for digital assets than physical products, banks in the APAC region are investing heavily in this new space. Japan's SoftBank recently invested $150 million in Asia's busiest metaverse platform, Zepeto.
Zepeto's app boasts roughly two million active users a day in Asia. Their platform sells high-fashion digital items from brands like Gucci, Dior, and Ralph Lauren for its users' online avatars.
Historically, if you look at what luxury brands are doing, consumer brands typically follow five years later. Luxury brands like the top fashion houses have the wealth and the margins to push new ideas and experiences to the extreme. It creates a less risky environment for consumer brands to follow on their coattails. In five years, we will interact, work, and socialise online in entirely different ways, and consumer brands aren't waiting around to test the waters.
In February 2022, L'Oreal filed for 17 trademarks in the NFT and metaverse categories for their sub-brands, including, Kiehls, Maybelline, Urban Decay, and Essie. While we'll have to wait and see what the cosmetic giant's exact plans are, they've made the first steps for users to be able to purchase, sell, and trade their virtual cosmetics in the metaverse. Most interestingly, this includes the rights to a "non-downloadable virtual perfumery" for Kiehls.
While developers are working on how to replicate smell in a virtual world, engaging the senses is an intelligent way for brands to be true to their core message and have a point of difference in the metaverse.
The sensory elements of food and beverage, beauty, and personal care brands are all key to their marketing. Think about how you walk past a Subway store and smell fresh bread; that's intentional. These sensory elements were all something consumer brands struggled with during the pandemic by going entirely online. Now, as we begin to shift into the post-pandemic era, CPG brands can create truly immersive experiences and leverage what their consumers have missed out on over the last two years.
Coca-Cola did this brilliantly in one of their first forays into the metaverse. Not only did they tap into their legacy of collectibles, but they also explored how sound helps consumers connect with their brand. One of the four NFTs they released included a 'Sound Visualizer,' which replicated the unmistakable sounds of a Coke bottle opening and being poured over ice. Their campaign then crossed over into the real world when they revealed the winning bidder of the NFT version of their classic vending machine would also receive a Smeg refrigerator fully stocked with Coca-Cola to share with friends. A campaign that cleverly coincided with World Friendship Day.
Wendy's is another early adopter who has successfully ventured into the virtual world. When Fortnite released its Food Fight game, the brand quickly discovered the virtual burger joint Durrr Burger was storing their beef in freezers. To capitalise on their core brand messaging and differentiator, "fresh, never frozen beef," they entered the game and went about destroying the freezers.
Wendy's mentions increased by 119 percent across social platforms during the gaming campaign. Their Twitch stream was viewed for more than 10.4 million minutes, and in-game views amassed more than 1.5 million minutes watched in Fortnite. Soon after, tens of thousands of gamers joined Wendy's mission and destroyed burger freezers, which led to Fortnite’s developers removing freezers and ridding the (virtual) world of frozen beef altogether. Their holistic online and offline strategy led them to take out the No. 2 spot burger chain by sales last year.
The Metaverse gamble paid off for both Coca-Cola and Wendy's as they found creative and authentic ways to engage with their audience in this new environment.
For brands looking to experiment in virtual marketing, creativity is key. However, like anything in marketing, new campaigns should still serve to reinforce key messages and experiences your consumers are getting in the physical world and other virtual touchpoints. It should be a compliment and an extension into this entire virtual world in an expansion of existing consumer shopper journeys. Brands often get their marketing wrong when they jump on the bandwagon or because they can, rather than thinking about how to do it as a meaningful expression of the brand.
Metaverse critics may say this is nonsense and brands will waste a bunch of money, but it's interesting to see the types of brands that are committing to this early on. And they are the types of brands that tend to fail fast and are highly innovative with huge portfolios. So I expect they will launch and learn which is the correct type of approach for any experiential marketing. It offers an excellent opportunity to test quickly and adjust as you go. For smaller brands, the metaverse provides a chance to be provocative and do something different without a hefty price tag.
In 2022 and beyond, it's clear that marketing isn't going to be business as usual. The new blurred lines between advertising and entertainment have provided marketers with an unparalleled opportunity to have fun and be creative.
The metaverse is an immersive environment so brands must now think about how their consumers use their senses to interact with their products. As we can see from the examples above, for the brands who dip their toes in first, the rewards can be long-lasting in both sales and brand loyalty.
About Kathryn Sloane
Kathryn has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Melbourne. With 20+ years of experience (6 in Europe. 14 in Asia) in brand strategy, design strategy, workflow optimisation and change management. Kathryn has partnered the likes of J&J, Coty, P&G, Unilever, Beiersdorf, Mary Kay, Martha Tilaar and Watsons. Kathryn is now the Managing Director of APAC/MEA, helping drive growth in APAC, through creating, building, and protecting brands across channels, markets and sectors.