Staff Writer
May 24, 2022

Into the Metaverse: WPP & Meta bring together industry leaders to navigate a journey into a new world

With the vast potential of the growing metaverse, how can brands leverage the new immersive virtual-world experience to affect real-world opportunities for their business? Industry leaders from agencies, Meta, and WPP came together to share views, guidance and experiences as this new platform takes shape.

Into the Metaverse: WPP & Meta bring together industry leaders to  navigate a journey into a new world
PARTNER CONTENT
As the “next evolution of the internet and social connections,” the metaverse is anticipated to offer the biggest opportunities for brands since the creation of the web. While web 1.0 laid the groundwork for static communication and web 2.0 ushered in the advent of mobile internet and visual communication, web 3.0 is poised to revolutionise the immersive online experience. What sets the metaverse apart is “the embodied internet, [where] you actually get to be part of the experience,” says Dan Neary, the vice president of Asia-Pacific at Meta. 
 
In the last 15 months, Facebook saw conversations around the metaverse grow by 689%, underscoring the curiosity of users. Meanwhile, Analysis Group forecasts that the metaverse will generate $3 trillion for the global economy over the next decade with widespread, immediate adoption, and Asia-Pacific contributing one-third of the total.
 
More and more companies are investing in the development of the metaverse. Meta’s new extended reality hub recently opened in Taiwan, and WPP launched the Metaverse Foundry through Hogarth Worldwide, a resource to guide companies through the process of entering the metaverse. Made up of a global network of over 700 creatives, technologists, and developers, the Foundry consults, designs, and constructs the metaverse experience for maximum impact, with brand safety, DEI, and sustainability in mind. 
 
Dan Neary, Meta
 
 
The opportunity for agencies and their clients: accelerating the leap
 
Chatter surrounding the metaverse has permeated our daily existence, heralded as the next big thing in the technological and social space. While the infrastructure of this immersive digital world is still nascent, the metaverse has already seen notable achievements. In just three months since its launch, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, saw the monthly user base of its social VR platform Horizon grow to 300,000, while Roblox, a gaming platform, has more than 50 million daily users.
 
Karen Teo, VP APAC global business group (SMB) at Meta, considers the metaverse to be the “successor of the mobile internet” and that the metaverse’s connected digital spaces will be championed by early adopters who recognise the “incredible creative possibilities,” paving the way for new business models and revenue opportunities.
 
For that domino effect to occur, the metaverse needs to fast-track its development. Meta, for example, is investing $150 million to enable and upskill the next generation of AR and VR creators and “accelerate the fundamental technologies, creative tools, and thinking around building for the metaverse to make it possible for creators and businesses to jump onto these technologies and bring the metaverse to life.”
 
While the metaverse provides unprecedented opportunities for brands, these uncharted waters present challenges to be mindful of, including concerns surrounding brand safety, inclusiveness, and sustainability. A recent interactive talk jointly hosted by WPP and Meta presented insights shared by capability experts to shed light on how brands can navigate this brave new world.
 
Ken Choo, Hogarth Worldwide (L), and Justin Peyton (R), Wunderman Thompson
 
Building brands in the metaverse
 
Brands are already finding new ways to engage with customers, notes Ken Choo, regional executive creative director of Asia-Pacific for Hogarth Worldwide. As the metaverse presents an “inflection point in marketing,” companies form strategic partnerships to activate new technologies and more custom metaverse experiences, such as 5G augmented reality concerts, are emerging. “Brands can offer more than just TV, social, and print,” emphasises Choo.
 
Consider live shopping — a real-time buy-and-sell transaction between merchants and consumers — or brands using AR campaigns to enhance the customer experience, such as Michael Kors, whose filter allowed users to model specs virtually; Made.com, which gave iOS users the ability to position virtual furniture inside their homes; and NYX Professional Make-up’s virtual cosmetics try-on. Bridging online and offline worlds “feels very science fiction, but it’s become reality in a lot of aspects,” says Teo. 
 
It also helps consumers gain confidence in brands, says Justin Peyton, chief transformation and strategy officer for Asia-Pacific at Wunderman Thompson, as products can come to life virtually before people even make a purchase. “New tools engage with people pre- and post-purchase. Relationships feel more real, more tangible, more trusted.” A study by Meta revealed that 74% of respondents see AR as a way of connecting online-offline worlds, while two-thirds of online shoppers expressed a desire to try products and services from the comfort of their own homes. 700 million people are already using AR across all products and services, priming brands within the metaverse to gain increased access to a wider audience globally.
 
Choo emphasises that “people want to be immersed and be a part of the brand story,” encouraging businesses to amplify the metaverse experience to encompass what character the brand already exudes before considering how to scale outside of the metaverse. 
 
Chua suggests that brands can capture metaverse experiences and broadcast them on familiar platforms to drum up attention and increase potential metaverse engagement. A company’s metaverse presence should feel like an extension of the brand, Lee says.
 
(L-R) Nick Pan (VMLY&R), Jimmy Lee (Meta), Joyce Chua (Mediacom), Dr William Thomas (Economist Intelligence Unit)
 
Decoding the complexity
 
Those who are already experimenting have found that the metaverse is a collaborative effort and journey, and not built by just one entity, creating a collective responsibility for brands that choose to participate. Companies that have creative tools to help brands establish themselves in this new space, like WPP, or already have a mature presence and means to influence the metaverse infrastructure, like Meta, are working together to support interoperability, assist brands in entering the metaverse, and build inclusive communities.
 
Understanding what your brand experience should be, what your audience wants, and being able to communicate that effectively is also crucial. Joyce Chua, communications planning director for Asia-Pacific at Mediacom, advises brands to think about “creating acts, not ads,” as the metaverse presents an extraordinary opportunity to “rewrite the way that we want to present brand values. Understanding the way audiences participate in the metaverse is important for us to nail down what that brand experience should be.”
 
Even with new technologies and ways of communication, people come first, says Jimmy Lee, global creative product lead at Meta. Brands need to consider the values they bring to the people in their metaverse community, identify the differences between immersive experiences and traditional content, and find the sweet spot where they complement each other to develop a holistic experience. “It’s very important for us to develop solutions and experiences that drive value, but also connect emotionally with all audiences and all people.”
 
Fast food giants have been quick to take advantage of the new digital landscape’s advertising potential. Companies like Wendy’s and Chipotle created “shopfronts” for their products in the metaverse that allowed users to explore, play games, experience virtual meals, and even place food orders to be delivered in the real world. A virtual version of Japan’s Shibuya neighbourhood showed off the e-commerce and entertainment capabilities of the metaverse. Launched during the pandemic, the digital campaign celebrated Halloween virtually and brought together notable brands and performers, with 50,000 people tuning in to explore the themed environment. Lee also cites the example of a museum in Berlin, which used digital twins to reimagine the architecture of the building and create a virtual experience that complemented the physical exhibition space.
 
As technology evolves to support the budding metaverse, companies are still discovering how to translate their real-world business into virtual. As ROIs are challenging to measure within such immersive environments, companies should focus on the purpose behind their metaverse presence. “Participate with a purpose. Invest time and effort. Be there and be present,” urges Nick Pan, chief commerce & strategy officer at VMLY&R Asia. Chua puts forth that, instead of measuring ROIs, brands should think about success in the metaverse from a learning mindset, and evaluate lessons learned in “our journey towards incorporating our brands into the metaverse. Being able to address, understand, and score ourselves against that is progress.”
 
 
Building a safer metaverse
 
Responsibility is everything in an emerging space, and Teo notes that brands should be driven by compelling but simple principles. Avoid surprises — companies need to be “super transparent about how products work and how data is going to be used.” At the same time, provide your users with controls to empower them to “take charge of their own experiences.”
 
Even though the metaverse is a virtual space, it should still reflect and represent the diversity of the real world. Brands have an opportunity to lean into passionate communities to help shape a safe environment where users of all backgrounds, cultures, languages, interests, and values feel welcomed. Representation matters — Chua and Lee agree that “audiences should feel safe, be seen, and feel valued.” It’s their responsibility to moderate and manage an inclusive space and seize the opportunity to be leaders in diversity and equality. 
 
Prioritising positivity and upliftment as business imperatives will drive the metaverse forward in building an ecosystem where everyone can participate and feel safe and included. Putting people first means that fostering diverse and inclusive spaces is paramount — much like in the real world. Diverse voices and needs must be able to find a (virtual) home in the metaverse for it to be considered safe and responsible, allowing all kinds of users to flourish. A study by Wunderman Thompson revealed that “children are finding their way into adult-centred realms, causing concerns amongst parents,” highlighting an urgent need for brands to create a secure environment in the metaverse where children’s privacy and digital experience are protected. Partnering with not just companies and businesses, but also public interest groups, diverse communities, and academia sets the right foundations in place to co-create a safe and inclusive metaverse that is truly accessible for everyone.
 
Diving into any new channels requires a balancing act of maintaining core values while “understanding the cultural behaviours that are forming within the metaverse” before interacting with audiences or growing their businesses. In an unregulated environment, Pan believes companies should be “involved first-hand to really understand the ongoings within the environment itself, and then make a decision [on] how [to] tweak the brand values that we have and the way we interact with audiences.”
 
There has never been a better time to build into the metaverse. In this exciting space where “new digital cultures are in their infancy,” brands who take the plunge can form meaningful contributions to mould this virtual world, set precedents, and play a part in spearheading new experiences. As the metaverse takes shape through the collective efforts of many, coming together as an industry to construct a connected ecosystem is key, and participants in this digital space must embrace the responsibility of developing an inclusive metaverse for good. Moving at a rapid pace, the technologies that companies like Meta and WPP are building will entice customers to follow, providing the opportunity for brands to participate with a purpose and positively enrich a virtual environment.
 
In closing, Christina Peyton, VP marketing & growth APAC, WPP, said, “It’s clear that the way brands, clients, agencies, and platforms will navigate the metaverse is by working together and forming productive partnerships. In a world that is changing more than ever before, we need to ensure partnerships that work together, and drive creativity and opportunity into the metaverse coupled with a commitment to responsibility, safety, and self-regulation. It is clear to WPP that this is a nascent opportunity. We believe that only by working together can we build a better metaverse, and that has clearly been proven today.”

 

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