100m people have now visited Vans World. Here’s how to do a brand experience in Roblox
The skateboarding brand’s director of global brand marketing shares how it created Roblox’s most popular activation to date.
Vans World has surpassed 100m visitors since its 2021 launch / Credit: Vans
The metaverse was heralded as the next big thing in marketing but many of the industry’s earliest movers have made a U-turn. Take Disney, for example, which scrapped its fledgling project earlier this year. Despite making a big bet on the tech, Meta (which rebranded from Facebook to harness the hype) has scaled back its ambitions. And as interest waned, Microsoft shifted its focus from the virtual world to AI and ChatGPT.
Amid this apprehension, one brand’s success story stands out. Last month, Vans became the first fashion company to reach over 100 million Roblox visitors in its virtual skatepark and skate shop, Vans World.
Vans World is a permanent virtual brand experience launched on the immersive gaming platform Roblox in September of 2021, making Vans one of the earliest adopters. In Vans World, players can skate with friends, compete against each other in interactive challenges and complete tricks (from ollies to kick-flips) to collect points. These points are spent on customizable outfits and skateboards for their avatars within the virtual skate shop.
“Our gamer community has grown organically, mainly driven by an authentic gaming experience in Vans World,” Lizzy Yao, director of global brand marketing at Vans, told The Drum. “Here, we strive not only to entertain but also to inspire and educate the next generation about skateboarding, fashion and the values of community. By fully immersing ourselves in the gaming culture, we seamlessly align with Vans’ commitment to fostering creative self-expression.
The experience was developed with The Gang, a Swedish game developer creating bespoke metaverse experiences for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Gucci, Givenchy, Amazon, Spotify and the National Hockey League (NHL).
“Many of the world’s leading brands, including ones we’ve collaborated with, have come to realize the game-changing potential of this metaverse platform as an effective route-to-market and channel for engaging key audiences,” added Marcus Holmstrom, the agency’s chief executive.
“Individual expression is deeply embedded in skate culture, and Vans has been supporting and enabling this type of creativity for more than 50 years. That’s why it was so important to the brand to empower creative expression in the digital world, as well as the real fashion and sports worlds in an accessible, inclusive way.”
Why Vans World works
To Holmstrom’s point about self-expression on Roblox, Vans’ presence on the platform also helps inform the brand about this young, digitally savvy demographic that finds self-expression and community in virtual realms.
Roblox data suggests that in-game customization is critical, like what is afforded to players in Vans World. Nearly half of Roblox users (47%) say that dressing their avatars allows them to express their individuality, and 43% say it helps them feel good about themselves. Customization also helps them feel more connected to their peers.
Another key factor in Vans World’s success is its regular innovations and updates. In its nearly two years of existence, Vans World has kept its players engaged through continuous brand collaborations and updates. These include a BMX capability introduced in early 2022 and a recent Gucci collaboration from April, which has since been nominated for the Roblox Innovation Awards under the ‘Best Collaboration’ category.
According to Yao, many of these updates are sourced from direct communication between Vans and its consumers. “We lend an attentive ear to their requirements through our Discord channel, leveraging this feedback and ideas to enhance our user experience and adding new gaming features,” she said.
After achieving unprecedented success with Vans World, Yao said Vans is poised to blur the digital and physical lines in its overall marketing approach moving forward.
“The biggest lesson is knowing our new generations will increasingly grow up as creators and express themselves online in new and different ways. As a brand, our goal and mission are to empower them to unleash their creativity in the most authentic way, no matter if it’s through skateboarding, music, art and design, or fashion, “ she said.
“In learning about user preferences and behaviors in Vans World, we’re using these lessons to create new and exciting ways that mix online and real-life experiences throughout the customer journey.“
Addressing metaverse hesitation
After industry giants like Disney, Microsoft, and Meta publicly scaled back their metaverse plans, CEOs and CMOs have taken a cautious approach. Yet, a minority continues to take bold steps into the metaverse. Just last week, Paris Hilton, for example, launched her own immersive virtual world in Roblox called Slivingland, which features a partnership with Taco Bell.
That investment is a testament to the fact that despite some failed corporate ventures, the metaverse market continues to experience growth. In 2022, it was estimated that it stood at $65.5bn. By the end of 2023, this figure is expected to rise to $82bn before surging to $936.6bn by 2030, according to Statistica. With 66.1 million daily active users, Roblox is a preeminent driver in that growth.
Holmstrom notes that the age demographic on Roblox appears to be broadening beyond users aged 13 and under – which has historically made up half of its daily users.
“[Roblox] is fast becoming a vibrant community for all demographics and age groups ... because [it] is a place where people come to be whoever they want to be. The platform offers all users the freedom to create different digital identities through avatar customization,“ he said.
“It’s the brand activations that offer players the most opportunity for self-expression which perform best on the platform.“