With the right strategy, creativity and bravery there are ways to navigate around the metaverse’s current shortcomings, writes George P. Johnson’s Adrian Goldthorp.

What exactly is ‘the metaverse’?

It seems like everyone is talking about it; how it’s the next big thing, how it will change everything from the internet to social media, to working, to life itself. Sounds like an amazing and exciting prospect, right? I wanted to explore the hype surrounding all things metaverse while asking one big question: is it ready? Is it in a good place, specifically in terms of a brand experience? Should it be seen as a new opportunity for marketers to be selling to their clients?

The metaverse is any 3D virtual environment where users from anywhere in the world can socially immerse themselves. These worlds exist within either a centralised or decentralised platform. Decentralised platforms are built on a blockchain architecture and are owned by their users, who can purchase NFTs such as land, art and other assets, whereas centralised platforms are governed by a central entity, controlling the parameters as to what users can do, buy or earn.

Let’s have a look at some of the more popular platforms.

Decentraland, one of the most successful and oldest platforms, is a decentralised virtual world. It’s a huge flat world that feels like a new housing estate where the roads have been put in on a grid system. Some major global brands have gotten involved, such as Morgan Stanley, Coca-Cola, Adidas and Samsung, taking the chance as early adopters.

The Sandbox is a decentralised platform where users can create and play anything that can be imagined – and it’s these games that make up this open-world experience. It has attracted quite the following, having partnered with over 165 brands and artists, including Smurfs, Snoop Dogg, DeadMau5, The Walking Dead, and even Premier League football club Manchester City.

Then there’s Meta’s version, currently known as Horizon Worlds. The Beta version is open to ‘creators’ in the US, Canada, France, Spain and the UK via Oculus Quest 2 as a virtual reality experience, if you happen to own one of these headsets.

Roblox is a gaming platform used by over 50 million people worldwide. It isn’t a decentralised platform, meaning it isn’t owned by its users. Nike, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Vans have all jumped into this world to have a presence as early adopters.

Fortnite is also not a decentralised platform but, unlike Roblox, has been designed as a one-world Battle Royale. In a bid to branch out of this, its creator, Epic Games, has moved into out-of-this-world, live music experiences with some of the biggest stars in the music world, such as Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. These ‘live concerts’ (they are actually pre-recorded, with high levels of animated overlays) look visually amazing where there really is no limit to the creativity.

Is the metaverse the ultimate new marketing channel?

When it comes to the decentralised platforms, one of the biggest problems for me is that their graphics are basic, like the kind of graphics that were around in the 90s. The reason for this is to try and get the best and most uniform performance for everyone, from anywhere. But the experience can still be laggy.

In March 2022, Decentraland hosted its first four-day Fashion Week event, with around 60 fashion brands showcasing 500 looks. Dolce & Gabbana’s catwalk featured cat-like models wearing this season’s offerings, while other major fashion brands such as Selfridges had grand openings of their virtual stores. Overall, due to glitchy, low-fi graphics, the feedback was mixed.

A real shortcoming for Decentraland is that it can also feel quite empty. It limits the number of avatars that can be placed together at any one time. This is problematic if you are trying to create an event with thousands of attendees to emulate a ‘live’ show. The last thing you want is an event where it feels like no one has turned up.

The whole point of a brand experience is to build community engagement to ultimately drive sales. Being a little more creative in how brands want to be experienced is surely a better strategy. What’s the point in just trying to recreate the real world in the virtual world? We can be whatever we want in the metaverse.

Fortnite and its not-so-live live music events are an absolute visual treat. Unbelievable, out-of-this-world performances, amazing creativity, all augmented by brilliant graphics. For me, the problem is it’s still contained in a screen. Is that ever going to be a better experience than the real-life experience?

Should brands get involved right now, or wait to see how things pan out?

The metaverse as a marketing channel should be approached with open eyes and open minds, especially as it takes shape. The right fit for the required audience at the right time should be considered, just like in any brand’s strategic comms cycle. 

Many brands are beginning to get involved, with varying levels of success. For some, it may just be the case of being there first; for others, it’s a simple case of FOMO. Brands with a younger demographic such as Nike and Adidas are seeing instant success as their youth audiences are already game-world savvy and tend to be natural early adopters, but are we going to see the same kind of success for insurance companies or nappy brands?

The potential for the metaverse, particularly in the future, is beyond imagination (read or watch Ready Player One to get a taste). With the right strategy, creativity and bravery there are ways to navigate around its current shortcomings, allowing brands to have a meaningful and worthwhile presence now while being in a good position to build on its potential in the future.

It will be up to us to stay educated and at the forefront of every development so that we can confidently inform and lead clients into this exciting frontier at exactly the right moment for their specific brand.