What Is the Metaverse and How Do Brands Activate in It?

D1 A Chris Mann Metaverse Perspectives v02
Trey Taylor

You’ve likely heard the word “metaverse” by now, witnessed #client Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, or heard of Ariana Grande having a virtual concert on Fortnite. You might have even seen #client Chipotle’s Boorito game experience which brought a longstanding retail tradition into the world of Roblox, featuring burrito costumes, virtual swag and a spooky corn maze.

The metaverse has been explained by Mark Zuckerberg as “an embodied internet”, and, for those who find that difficult to grasp, an eight-year-old described it as “a different world” that you can seemingly, but not physically, enter.

The metaverse is made up of digital spaces where we congregate virtually and interact with one another. But I’ve seen it best explained not as a virtual ‘place’ in which we can spend our free time, but as a monumental shift, a “moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life.” Think about it: how much time do we spend conferencing on Zoom, beautifying our Instagram photos, playing video games, investing in cryptocurrency? Put simply: the virtual > the real.

Over a recent Zoom call, we spoke with Chris Mann of REV/XP, the esports and gaming marketing agency that Day One Agency worked with on Chipotle’s Boorito Maze, to break down that word you just can't seem to escape these days—the metaverse—and how brands can activate in this exciting space.

What is the metaverse?

For brands that don’t know what it is, it’s an interactive and immersive space that’s going to connect people. Right now, it's really focused on connecting gamers through platforms like Roblox or Minecraft, or what Epic is doing with Fortnite or [battle royale-style game] Fall Guys. It’s an immersive space where you can collaborate and hopefully play together. It’s very much that Ready Player One-esque type of idea where people can connect through a digital world.

The Roblox idea and the concepts all revolve around what's interesting to people within that space. On Roblox that is exclusive digital goods, making sure that player’s avatars look cool. In real life, you want the drawers that nobody can get access to; you want the Balenciaga hoodie, right? It's the same thing in the virtual world with NFTs. So it's all about that exclusive access.

How can brands meaningfully enter the space?

Brands need to figure out what they want to do. What do they want to take out of the space? What kind of value are you bringing to the gamer experience? How are you adding value to what they're doing? Think about it as “how can we keep consistent and how does that add value to the gaming community?” You see a lot of brands coming in doing really buzzy stuff. But then they're gone, right? Like Gucci did an amazing art installment [with the Gucci Garden]. That doesn't exist anymore. So it was cool for PR. But did it add any value to the gamer experience on an everyday level? And are they engaging consistently with gamers to build that brand affinity and that awareness and to really to show gamers that they've got your back?

What have been some value-add brand activations in the metaverse that you’ve seen?

Chipotle’s collaboration with Roblox is a good example. The idea was based on collecting exclusive items and creating an experience. Nerf also did a cool thing with their Roblox activation. You play a first person shooting game with Nerf blasters; it highlights the Nerf blaster guns, and [their experience] is always changing and elevating.

If I compared getting these fun virtual items in Roblox for a 12-year-old equivalent to adults purchasing NFTs is that accurate to say?

I would say so.

Why are artists like Ariana Grande doing virtual concerts in Fortnite?

This is just the next evolution of how people experience music, and it's happening within the digital world. Digital concerts offer an immersive experience where users can feel like they're a part of. As for artists, it's great because it's scalable. You could sell merch, whether it's by selling Fortnite skins or connecting it to physical merch.

I saw Snoop Dogg just did something in The Sandbox. What is The Sandbox?

It's a blockchain-based metaverse where you can buy plots of land to build out an experience. Their whole thing is like, once those plots are gone, they're gone, and you've got to spend all this money to buy and build inside the platform. There are also all these NFTs you can buy that are exclusive to The Sandbox. The barrier of entry [for brands] is pretty high. I think that makes it a little bit harder and scarier for brands, like, try to explain a blockchain-based metaverse with digital entities that you can program [to brand leadership], and what's the ROI on that? It’s futuristic at this point.

How should brands who want to activate in the metaverse view creators?

You have to think about how a space works. If you have an opportunity and are in a category that a platform [like Roblox or Fortnite] feels is important and they want to collaborate with you, then you'll probably get a lot of support from them. When you think about the gaming community, there's so many touch points. Everybody thinks Twitch or YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Discord. You have to think holistically how to touch all of those points and add value to the gaming experience. Also ask yourself what kind of experience do you want to create? Do you want to win an award? Or do you want to consistently engage the gaming community?

What is the future of the metaverse?

Go watch Ready Player One! I think that's probably some people's vision of it, and that would be awesome. I think in the short term, some of the most popular games are very role-playing focused. For example, there’s Roblox’s Welcome to Bloxburg. 60,000 people play it and they play different roles within the game. That's the short term iteration of the metaverse. Trends in the game-space always change. What's the next big game? I don't know. What is the next big trend within the metaverse? You know, I think it's hard. But there's probably some 12-year-old kid somewhere coming up with some crazy idea about how they can flip the experience to do something better and cooler.