UK broadcaster ITV has launched a John Lewis-branded experience in Fortnite to coincide with the latest season of reality show I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! The Drum asks ITV whether we can call this the metaverse yet.
Earlier this year Dan Colton, group strategy and transformation director at ITV, told us: “You can’t move audiences.” He was discussing how the broadcaster has to be more outgoing and reach new platforms. The metaverse is just a cornerstone of this strategy.
“It can’t just be a good article in The Drum,” advises Metavision co-founder Luke Price, who delivered the experience with fellow co-founder Rhys Hancock. The small team created a custom map in Fortnite, a recreation of the I’m A Celeb castle (complete with regular challenges to coincide with show events), a John Lewis store where rewards can be unlocked and a giant advent calendar stuffed with Easter eggs from the retailer’s Christmas campaign.
“On the face of it might seem like quite a wild crossover,” he admits. As part of a wider partnership with ITV, John Lewis’s media agency MGOMD worked with Metavision to create the gaming experience.
Hancock says it’s very much in the early stages, but the testing and learning has attracted big brand attention.
He says: “Our work serves a holy trinity. It markets the show, helps us reach new audiences and opens up commercial opportunities.” The experience would have been delivered without the commercial partner, still ticking two of three boxes. It didn’t come to that – buzz around the metaverse is driving strong interest in these experiments.
ITV thinks the metaverse work can extend engagement with the family-friendly IP, and for John Lewis, it ties into several beloved properties in one fell swoop and remains front of mind during the Christmas period. Also, bizarrely, its Christmas campaign now lives in I’m A Celeb and Fortnite canon in some way.
The agency’s claiming a media first with the campaign – but is it easily replicable?
There is no partnership with Epic, Fortnite’s owner, which has done exceedingly well bringing in branded partners such as Denny’s and Disney.
ITV has come at it another way, using the game’s creation mode and a team of pros at 3D Lab to build the experience. Technically any brand could whip up a game and create something. But it’s not as simple as that, Hancock says.
“ITV is incredibly well-placed, certainly in the UK, to enter spaces in ways that other broadcasters might not be able to do.” It is early into the metaverse and has a strong grip on gaming. It has some desirable IP and should theoretically be able to funnel audiences into these experiences.
But for this to be a ‘mainstream’ proposition, some elements that bring an experience closer to what we envision as the metaverse had to be diluted. That means ignoring the VR element that bogs down much metaverse chat. Practically, that meant building a fun experience into a free game, available on most devices, with a third of a billion registered players – an almost unmatched scale in gaming history.
“[The creator mode] can be idiosyncratic at times. It’s not really clear why some things that seem impossible work, or some really small things don’t – it’s all an educational piece,” Hancock says. “There’s always a trade-off. If you want to build something that has every element that you’d ever dream of, you have to build it bespoke, and that always suffers with that lack of reach.”
But the pair are adamant this is well on the way to the metaverse – it’s not just awards bait or an article in The Drum. Hancock says that ITV’s content ecosystem, the addressable TV and the social, will drive experience and engagement with the experience. For John Lewis to see the benefit of the activation, people need to play, or at the very least, talk about it.
Hancock says: “This isn’t a subset of gaming or esports – we think it is actually the next generation of mainstream entertainment. Among younger demographics, it will be ubiquitous, and therefore it’s not a subset of something else.”
The pair have been in ITV for nearly a year now. Metavision predates Facebook’s transformation to Meta, “[muddying] the waters in a blessing and a curse” and putting the metaverse on the table of many brands, according to Hancock.
John Lewis comes into the deal as an “integrated commercial partner” and there’s more in the works, both from this experience and other IPS. Claire Pointon, customer director at John Lewis & Partners, said in the press release: “Launching our Christmas story ‘Unexpected Guest’ into the Fortnite metaverse will bring to life the advert in a new and original format to our customers. Gamification and the metaverse are growing at pace, and as a brand we are constantly searching for activity that will modernize our brand and continue to keep us relevant in everyday moments for our customers.”
It builds on ITV’s strategy for the metaverse, with the launch of an in-game version of The Void in Fortnite Creative earlier this year and a recent partnership between ITV Studios’ The Voice and metaverse platform Avakin Life.