By Elliott Haworth | Writer

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April 13, 2022 | 7 min read

A sceptic might say that Facebook rebranding as Meta to demonstrate the interoperability of its platforms was a cynical PR stunt to mitigate the likelihood of antitrust proceedings.

That Meta’s move has propelled the concept of the metaverse into the public consciousness, bringing with it no shortage of brands into the space, is no bad thing. Very few of us beyond niche communities were talking about ‘the metaverse’ two years ago. And now we are.

For brands to dive into the metaverse, it’s got to be more than just a PR headline

For brands to dive into the metaverse, it’s got to be more than just a PR headline

So what exactly is it? Ask the person on the street and answers will range from virtual reality to social media or blockchains. Instead The Drum, in partnership with Yahoo, gathered three leading lights from across this burgeoning industry to join The Drum’s resident metaverse expert Webb Wright at Digital Transformation Festival 2022 and asked them the same question.

“I think it's existed for a lot longer than we probably think we actually know,” says Adam De Cata, head of partnerships at Decentraland. “It's not too far of a stretch to say that we've actually been dealing with this for 10 plus years.”

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The other panellists concur. Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining – we’ve always been here. Or at least since the various platforms and tools, from Twitter to Zoom to Twitch; NFTs to crypto and Roblox, became a part of our day-to-day lives. We just have a word for this massive, ever-evolving, interoperable virtual environment now. The question is, how can brands play in this space in a meaningful way?

“There is a really big opportunity when you start to look at the interoperable nature and promise of the metaverse,” says Sam Field, director of creative technology, Yahoo RYOT Studios. “How can I show up and own items and be myself in as many different platforms as I possibly can? There’s an opportunity for brands to start to enable that and supplement that”.

More than a headline

‘Authenticity’ and corporate brands don’t often meld, but without the former, the latter will struggle in the metaverse. Understanding your brand’s motivations behind launching a product is just as important as engaging with the community who will use it.

“If a brand doesn't value community, and is valuing PR or a media headline, it's never going to end well no matter if it's in the metaverse or in the real world,” says De Cata.

Charli Cohen, artist doyenne of said community and founder of RSTLSS, agrees, offering Adidas as an example of a traditional brand that has done its research, rather than dived in for a headline.

“[Adidas] spent nearly a year just engaging with the community on Twitter and Discord before even talking about dropping a product and monetizing its presence in web3.

“And then when it came to do that, it did so in collaboration with two really well respected IPs within the web3 space – Bored Apes and Punx comics. So [the brand] really took its time to research and understand and engage with the community, and figure out what meant the most to them, and then design its strategy around that”.

Figuring out how your brand fits into the metaverse, strategizing long term, and creating activations people will actually want to engage with seems a no-brainer. Thoughtless PR stunts serve only the brand, the panel agrees.

“At the very least, it's about being savvy, identifying a brand who's coming in for a cash grab, and isn't interested in actually bringing value to the community… if you're doing a one-off drop, that could work for you in isolation, but you lose all integrity very quickly,” adds Cohen.

A brave new world

That is not to dissuade brands from having a go. Free from the restrictions of council permits and physics, the possibilities are quite literally endless. But if you’re going to do it, do it right.

Take Yahoo’s recent collaboration with Cohen to launch the Charli Cohen x RSTLSS collection for Metaverse Fashion Week. The activation saw Yahoo bring its Electric/City immersive shopping environment into Decentraland for the first time.

“You need to be able to add an experience that sort of sets a new precedent or at least engages in a way that feels authentic,” says De Cata. “And you know, it's okay, because at the end of the day, we're all building case studies in real time. So the pressure isn't there to deliver something phenomenal. But you know, something that does relate to that community, and that does earn their respect, goes a long way”.

If the metaverse is – at its most basic – a myriad of interconnected, interoperable networks that we have all been using for a decade, it stands that most brands will have access to a number of the tools and skills required to explore the metaverse. But all the panellists agree that prioritizing this traditional, top down approach, misses the point; the spirit of this brave new world.

“A really important thing is to test and learn,” says Yahoo’s Field. “Go in there with an open mind, collaborate with the platforms, the partners, the builders who are already operating in this space. And think about why you're doing it… the brands that have entered this just for a PR opp, or just to sell some NFTs for a quick buck or just to win an award, realistically, those strategies are more likely to fail.”

“The priority needs to be around communities rather than about trying to make a headline or revenue at this point, because that will come as it always does, if it's a great product, or a great experience,” concludes De Cata. Perhaps someone should tell Zuck?

Tune in to the full discussion ‘Creating authentic brand experiences in the metaverse’ from DT Fest here.

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