From the chance to fly in a handbag to wandering in a bespoke luxury mansion, there was plenty on offer at this year's Metaverse Fashion Week – if only there had been more visitors to appreciate it.
For the second year in a row, Metaverse Fashion Week – which ran last week (28-31 March) – was hosted by luxury NFT marketplace UNXD and Decentraland, an immersive platform that offers digital land plots as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and operates on the Ethereum blockchain.
With ‘Future Heritage’ serving as the event’s curatorial theme, brands were encouraged to showcase a connection between innovation and tradition within virtual and interactive experiences. Over 60 major brands – including Gucci, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Dolce and Gabbana – were among this year’s participants.
Users of Decentraland can traverse its open-world territory and interact with built-in games and community-led experiences using a custom avatar.
By taking up areas of the platform’s virtual real estate, popular fashion brands launched immersive experiences to promote new collections and creative campaigns – including built-in games, digital fashion shows and parties, panel talks, integrated video displays and virtual 'try-on' opportunities for avatars.
We’ve curated a roundup of three major takeaways from this year’s virtual runway strut – from changes in the technology landscape to revised approaches to Web3 marketing from brands and advertisers.
1. Brands are addressing a need for more gamification
Post-pandemic, marketers have caught onto the benefits of gamified campaigns – particularly through the massive outreach offered by popular gaming platforms, such as Fortnite and Roblox.
Compared to last year’s show, this year’s event saw more brands offering gamified experiences and virtual giveaways. Coach teamed up with AR fashion platform to offer an immersive quest within a recreated Tabby Bag, while DKNY, Diesel and metaverse firm HAPE released several wearable NFT airdrops for all attendees.
One example of a brand marrying its traditional design concepts with gamification was veteran shoe brand Clarks, who was among this year’s Metaverse Fashion Week participants.
In a campaign launched by creative agency Exposure and built by 3D engine Threedium, the brand launched “Clarks Arcade” – an immersive entertainment hub situated within a plot of land on Decentraland’s virtual turf.
Leveraging the experience to promote its 2023 collection, Clarks claims to have taken inspiration from its product features to build its metaverse activation (including geometric shapes and patterns that represent the shoe brand’s signature fob, featured on each of its shoes).
“Being part of Metaverse Fashion Week not only allows us to highlight our products, but it also enables us to immerse our fans in our brand in a way like never before," Tara McRae, chief marketing and digital officer at Clarks, said.
2. There’s a greater push for interoperability
Since NFTs have entered the vernacular of marketers, the concept of interoperability – whereby a digital asset or system can operate seamlessly across different platforms – has been discussed in tandem with dialogue about the application of Web3 technology in marketing.
Benefits of interoperable assets include added accessibility for users, easier cross-platform collaboration and increased ease in how users can securely transfer information from platform to platform.
Ad industry figures, including Brent Koning, global gaming lead at Dentsu Gaming, have remarked on NFT technology's capability to build greater brand loyalty.
Other major brands, including Salesforce and Starbucks, have also recently claimed to be rethinking their approaches to Web3 technology, noting its ability help them develop effective loyalty schemes (Starbucks has launched its own blockchain-powered loyalty programme, where users can 'unlock' benefits and experiences through ownership of a unique NFT).
In an effort to further promote the interoperable capabilities of NFT technology, Decentraland collaborated with additional metaverse platforms Spatial and Over for Metaverse Fashion Week 2023 – enabling all digital purchases to be transferable and wearable by avatars in all three applications.
3. Interest in the metaverse has shifted
Falling on the heels of Facebook’s rebranding to Meta and ‘the metaverse’ being hailed as the latest hype tech, last year’s show – which was the first of its kind – was marketed by Decentraland as a breakthrough event in the global fashion industry.
However, Metaverse Fashion Week 2023 ran within a very different climate – where major brands have made recent headlines for scaling back investment in metaverse-related products and sentiments about metaverse marketing seem to have shifted among advertisers.
Meta, whose Reality Labs division (responsible for its VR and AR technology) posted a loss of $4.3bn in the fourth quarter of 2022, recently announced that it would be ending its work on NFTs. Since September 2022, the tech giant has undergone two rounds of mass layoffs (resulting in over 20,000 job cuts).
Disney, which also recently underwent a major restructuring process, announced that it would be shutting down its dedicated metaverse division, cutting roughly 50 jobs.
Interest in the event, from both brands and visitors, also appears to have waned.
Over 70 brands participated in 2022’s event, while just over 60 brands participated in this year’s event – roughly a 10% decrease from last year’s count.
Less than 50,000 unique users were also reportedly in attendance – a sharp decrease from a headcount of 108,000 visitors last year. As of March 2023, the average active population on Decentraland is reported to be 810 a day.
The metaverse has also recently become the subject of scrutiny by ad industry figures. Speaking at the Data and Marketing Association’s Data 2023 conference, Leila Seith Hassan, head of data science and analytics at Digitas, suggested that the metaverse is ‘just not relevant’ for all brands.
Guy Futcher, regional creative director at VCCP, also claims he has often seen brands jumping into the metaverse with “average” ideas.
“Most companies haven’t thought about the most important thing – whether customers want to spend time there,” he said. “Which means they end up creating expensive digital ghost towns.”