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Brands no longer see metaverse-like worlds as abstract gimmicks


Companies including Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and streetwear brand Vans earlier this year built their own digital worlds on metaverse-like platforms such as Roblox Corp. and Fortnite Creative in an attempt to improve brand recognition and get existing customers more engaged.

Their efforts are a sign that advertisers, which have long been hesitant to spend marketing dollars on experimental efforts, are warming to new digital platforms. Facebook’s late October announcement that it would develop a metaverse environment, including investing $10 billion on the effort this year and changing its name to Meta Platforms Inc., is expected to accelerate that trend.

“Facebook saying, ‘We’re going to put $10 billion into this,’ I think provides a lot of incremental confidence that this would be a worthwhile experiment,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM, a media-buying company inside ad agency behemoth WPP PLC.

The metaverse is a relatively new term to describe a futuristic internet with virtual experiences where people can customize avatars—digital images representing themselves—to play games, make virtual purchases and interact and attend events such as concerts and comedy shows. Roblox is currently among the highest-profile metaverse-like platforms.

This futuristic version of the internet is unlikely to become a significant branding platform for companies anytime soon. Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said last month that the metaverse was five to 10 years away from being developed and adopted by a large number of users. Marketing executives from companies currently present in the metaverse, including Vans and Chipotle, said they have yet to use the platform to sell physical goods.

Some marketers are also concerned the metaverse may just be a repeat of Linden Lab’s virtual world Second Life, said Kieley Taylor, global head of partnerships at GroupM. Second Life, a community made up of islands and avatars developed by individuals and businesses, launched in the early aughts to much fanfare from advertisers, but never really had a meaningful enough user base to stay relevant or grow large enough for brands to benefit, said Mr. Wieser of GroupM.

Others believe things will be different this time around. Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, said he expects consumers to welcome a more immersive web experience, especially after pandemic confinements led them to change their habits.

“Being at home, using avatars, having the ability to get everything delivered to your home—that changes the way people think about digital,” Mr. Brandt said. “I think the world is more ready for it.”

Chipotle has handed out discounted or free burritos to people in costumes around Halloween for the past two decades. This year, it chose to host its long-running “boorito” promotion in the metaverse. The Mexican-food chain turned to Roblox, where it built a virtual store where avatars could dress up in costumes such as a Chip Bag Ghost or Burrito Mummy and travel through a virtual maze to retrieve a code for a free burrito. It was Chipotle’s first foray into the metaverse.

“We haven’t tried to sell anything yet on Roblox, but certainly we would like to do some experimentation,” Mr. Brandt said.

Meta has reached out to some advertisers to discuss ad opportunities in the metaverse. One executive at a digital marketing firm said he is planning to meet with Meta remotely, through the company’s virtual-reality headset. Another agency executive said Meta is encouraging brands to use existing augmented reality features, such as Instagram filters that overlay real photos with special effects, to get comfortable with the types of advertising opportunities that will exist in the future.

Vans, a unit of VF Corp. that sells skateboarding apparel and gear, in September launched a virtual skate park in Roblox, where users can try new tricks and earn points by hitting waffle-shaped floating coins while skating. They can use the points to redeem items such as virtual shoes and skateboard customizations. They can also use Robux, Roblox’s currency, to buy more specific virtual items, such as customizable shoes.

The company sees virtual universes as a place to build brand awareness among 13-to-35-year olds, the company’s core demographic, said Nick Street, Vans’s vice president of global integrated marketing.

“These worlds are where they hang out, where they meet with each other,” Mr. Street said.

Vans said the virtual skate park has attracted more than 48 million visitors so far. Mr. Street said the company is generating revenue from the sale of virtual goods, but Vans declined to disclose further details. One of the things Vans isn’t yet able to do in Roblox is use the virtual universe to sell physical products. “That’s where the opportunity lies” when the metaverse grows to a bigger scale, Mr. Street said.

Nike Inc. also recently launched a community in Roblox called Nikeland. The virtual community, which has buildings and fields inspired by Nike’s headquarters, is expected to host games like tag and dodgeball. The company plans to allow creators to design their own games.

Beyond Roblox, gaming companies like “Fortnite” maker Epic Games and Microsoft Corp., which owns Xbox and popular gaming platform Minecraft, all operate metaverse-like platforms.

Ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, Verizon helped create a virtual copy of the stadium on Fortnite Creative, a system affiliated with the well-known game where developers can construct their own games and communities. Fans were able to come into the stadium and play games. The company paid some high-profile National Football League players including Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray to join in and play against one another, a competition that Verizon live-streamed on Twitch and Twitter.

Verizon’s marketing chief, Diego Scotti, said he sees the virtual experience—which attracted 40 million people over the course of seven days—as a branding opportunity. “We’re starting to talk about the ability of these experiences to become worthy rivals to TV spots running on the Super Bowl,” he said.

 

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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