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Weber Shandwick defies metaverse cynics with London VR studio acquisition


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

March 16, 2023 | 5 min read

Agency network puts a big bet on the metaverse growth despite a reduced focus on web3 focus this year.

flipside acquisition photograph

Weber Shandwick is to merge Diverse Interactive into Flipside, one of its digital agencies / Weber Shandwick

Recent job cuts at Facebook’s parent company Meta were received as proof that the metaverse was arguably a busted flush for practical businesses. But the leaders of agency network Weber Shandwick don’t think so – and have pressed ahead with its investment in the sector, with the acquisition of specialist AR agency Diverse Interactive.

Marcus Dyer, group managing director at Weber Shandwick subsidiary Flipside, told The Drum that business opportunities in the metaverse and wider web3 sector are still strong, despite the retreat from its highest-profile champion.

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“The funny thing is that Facebook has been seen to ‘own’ the metaverse, but that simply isn’t the case. The reality is the largest metaverses currently exist outside of the walls of Facebook. In any case, any softening in demand for the metaverse would only be a short-term arc. There is no doubt that this will be continuing on a pace through any buffers.”

Demand among clients is still “undoubtedly” strong, he argues. “But a lot of demand is actually coming from places that are quite counterintuitive. With the metaverse your brain immediately goes to fun consumer applications and while we do a lot of those, the main demand is actually coming from B2B clients.

“We are currently building interactive metaverse experiences for training scenarios, staff onboarding and product announcements and town halls. Global businesses are looking for spaces like this to solve comms problems like these in exciting new ways that take advantage of the less physical world that we call now inhabit.”

He says that, while consumer demand for virtual reality experiences is still lacking – due mostly, he says, to the “barrier to entry” of a headset – mobile and desktop browser experiences can still deliver for clients.

Furthermore, demand for AR experiences is “already extremely strong”. He predicts the market will “explode” any day.

“Significant leaps in AR technology from platforms like 8th Wall have democratized AR and made it available through phone browsers, making it an absolute no-brainer for brands to use to tell stories through a third dimension,” says Dyer. “It seems likely that later this year Apple will release their headset… our prediction is that they will lean further towards augmented reality than virtual reality.

“So our crystal ball tells us that AR demand (which is already very buoyant) will explode. And we want to be galloping ahead in this race while the other agencies inevitably scrabble to pile onto the bandwagon.”

Diverse Interactive is set to be rolled into Flipside immediately. The agency was founded in 2014 and provides virtual production and AR development services for clients such as Ribena. Its team of 12 will be relocated from Guildford, just outside London, to Weber’s more central premises.

Ben Fryer, co-founder of Diverse Interactive, said: “Our shared passion for delivering innovation and technology through digital transformation and a shared vision for the future of XR and the Metaverse led us to this exciting opportunity.

The spatial content revolution and the next generation of the internet are upon us. We’re wasting no time in working with our clients to help adopt this incredible space and are already [creating] a host of immersive experiences that I know will captivate audiences across the globe.”

Weber Shandwick declined to reveal the fee paid for the agency.

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