How agencies approached the metaverse in 2022, and what potential it holds for 2023

How agencies approached the metaverse in 2022, and what potential it holds for 2023

There is still significant debate on the eventuality of the metaverse.

It might be too soon to declare 2022 as the year the metaverse took off, but that has not stopped media agencies from trying to innovate. Many seem to agree the metaverse’s exact future going seamlessly between the physical world and virtual one is unclear. Some see it as the inevitable future; others remain skeptical that it will be anything like the book and movie “Ready Player One.”

“Web3 today cannot be ignored — changes one way or another are coming as technology evolves, and tools like AI continue to advance and put the ability to code and create into the hands of everyday people,” said Cristina Lawrence, evp of consumer and content experience at Razorfish, one of Publicis’ interactive agencies. “We are on the verge of the next great technological revolution, and entire industries are going to change in a blink of an eye.”

In contrast, Baruch Labunski, CEO of SEO marketing agency Rank Secure, contends that the metaverse is not taking off like we thought it would. Even as businesses invest millions of dollars into metaverse projects, there aren’t enough consumers using it to justify the costs.

“Most experts acknowledge that the metaverse is failing,” Labunski said. “Not only does it have minimal user engagement, but it also has quality issues. The basic problem [is that] Mark Zuckerberg thought everyone would want an immersive experience. The fact is that the trend is to exit offline and enjoy the real world.”

As the broader marketing world tries to figure out what this virtual reality world looks like — and how to harness it for opportunity — media and creative agencies are at the forefront of experimentation. They have invested in metaverse-related initiatives from content marketing to research and education to expand their offerings and support clients.

“The explosive hype and volume of conversations about Web3 and the metaverse demanded an educational stance for many agencies and brand marketers,” Lawrence said. “Going into 2023, marketers will need to champion unique creative experiences, with clear business objectives and KPIs linked to audience engagement.”

To tackle that, some agencies started with educating their workforce and clients on Web3 applications. In November, Dentsu partnered with Web3 publisher Decrypt Media to launch the Web3 Center of Excellence. Soon to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Dentsu also built a metaverse campus in partnership with Microsoft and productivity platform HeadOffice.Space. The space is designed to support clients in testing out their metaverse content, whether that be retail apps or collaboration and client presentations.

As Val Vacante, vp of solutions and innovation at Dentsu, previously explained to Digiday, in the metaverse “pixels are endless.” That means testing can be cheaper as overhead costs can be reduced. In an experiment with Dentsu through the Merkle Virtual Retail Lab, a partner conducting diversity and inclusion research in the metaverse was able to save some 70% in costs and increase participation by 300% compared to a traditional in-person survey, Vacante said.

“I’m just a firm believer that you need to be experimenting,” Vacante told Digiday. “We cannot advise clients if we are not playing, exploring, testing, winning, failing, right? So that’s what we wanted to do here.”

Metaverse extensions

Sports and gaming have been in a way natural extensions of the metaverse, as we have seen with the rise of Fortnite, Roblox and other VR games. In late 2022, Stagwell launched two different augmented reality apps with the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Twins for fans to experience live content and games during game days. They can join in whether in a stadium or at home now, and the firm has plans to expand this platform to other types of live events, such as musical concerts.

“We really want to tackle all live events,” as Josh Beatty, founder and CEO of ARound, previously told Digiday. “We’re really tapping into something that couples education with excitement with entertainment, and we feel that that is really creating the basis for lifelong fandom.”

But as with all new experiments, there are bound to be some failures. As Labunski mentioned, critics have observed low foot traffic on platforms like Decentraland even as companies establish headquarters, venue and stores in these fictional places. And with some beta tests, like Starbucks’ loyalty program in Web3, there is not yet enough evidence to show their effectiveness — or whether people want rewards in that form.

“Finding ways to bring NFTs and other digital items into a tangible form in a post-covid world, where we want to touch, feel, smell and taste things, will be imperative — and is something that most brands have failed to do in 2022,” said Matilda Kivelä, senior creative and brand strategist at creative agency Reaktor Creative.

Geoff Renaud, co-founder and CMO of web3 marketing agency Invisible North, also noted the lack of traction and difficulty accessing some decentralized platforms. He said his firm is not advising clients to invest in these environments currently.

“The Sandbox and Decentraland are sprawling universes that came to market promising interoperability, user-owned identity, valuable digital assets and endless good times,” Renaud said. “This vision never came to fruition as costly and volatile crypto assets plummeted in value and user onboarding was inaccessible.”

In fact, most people don’t even understand Web3, according to consumer insights company Toluna. So the biggest challenge has been making this emerging internet “easy to understand and not overly complicated,” said Ellen Prinzi, vp of client experience and innovation at FlyteVu’s Web3 division FV3. But Prinzi believes NFT projects have the potential to drive marketing and revenue.

“For most, it still feels like the barrier to entry is high, and we are hopeful 2023 is the year of mass market adoption,” she added.

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