The marketing industry's overall enthusiasm surrounding the metaverse has waned as the economy experiences a downturn, shifting the industry's focus towards more impactful innovations, particularly in AI, which has practical implications.
However, there are still brands tapping into the metaverse to connect with their target demographic and create immersive experiences.
One of the ways they are doing this is through Roblox, a gaming platform known for its young user base. Brands like Gap, American Eagle, Forever 21, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Givenchy, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, and even Walmart have recently launched unique experiences within Roblox.
David Webster, co-founder and chief executive of The Carrot Collective understands this growing trend, and shares the analogy of simultaneously throwing a party in several places to explain the shift. The former managing director for Asia Pacific at BBH explains to Campaign brands that the increase of usage in tools such as Roblox signal a growing desire to create a unanimous brand experience for consumers, regardless of platform or place.
"With the new possibilities offered by blockchain technology and Web3 use cases, brands have a unique opportunity to test real-world behaviours in virtual environments, and vice versa. A living skunk-works of sorts."
Inside Singapore Wanderland
A brand that has created a focused metaverse strategy on Roblox is the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the economic development agency for Singapore's tourism sector, which sees value in the platform’s marketing potential.
With a study by Expedia finding that 43% of children influence family travel decisions, and 40% of Roblox users are under the age of 13, Roblox gave STB a new perspective on how tap into families and travellers. As such, STB tasked Shophouse@Publicis, its bespoke agency within Publicis Media, Publicis Play and Wonder Works Studio, to create 'Singapore Wanderland' and target Gen Z and Gen Alpha.
The experience crafted three worlds featuring racing, obbys (obstacle courses), and scavenger hunts around iconic Singapore landmarks.
Georgina Koh, director of marketing activation at STB, tells Campaign the agency is committed to exploring creative ways and new channels to engage new audiences and connect with potential travellers.
"The Roblox platform allows for flexibility in designing fully customisable branded experiences, allowing STB to create a unique experience that puts a playful spin on real-life attractions to drive affinity for Singapore with Singapore Wanderland," explains Koh.
"Roblox's accessibility across various devices, including mobile, was also a key consideration, as this would increase STB's ability to reach a wider pool of mainstream audiences."
From the outset, Shophouse@Publicis, Publicis Play and Wonder Works Studio focused on ensuring that Singapore Wanderland was not simply a literal replication of Singapore in a virtual world.
Instead, the agencies treated this opportunity to reimagine Singapore, whilst ensuring that the core principles of effective games – make them playable, fun, and rewarding – were followed.
The branding elements came through the building of recognisable focal points: Marina Bay Sands, Chinatown, and Gardens by the Bay. The platform's open nature allowed the agencies to be fantastical with their interpretation of these landmarks, giving the world a significant distinction.
At the same time, the integration of natural elements throughout helped emphasise Singapore as a green city.
Jamie Lewin, a consultant with Publicis Play, tells Campaign the decision to establish three distinct worlds within Singapore Wanderland was rooted in the popularity of three game loops on Roblox: racing, obbys, and scavenger hunts.
Game loops like karting and racing are some ways users can compete against each other. At the same time, scavenger hunts and obbys' reward committed players who have invested their time into the platform.
Lewin explains the agency designed each world around one of these game loops to connect it to iconic Singapore landmarks and experiences. Rather than forcing the brand into the game, the challenge was to integrate the brand within the gameplay, enhancing the overall experience for players.
"Building Singapore Wanderland required finding the delicate balance between meeting STB's expectations and working within the limitations of the chosen game engine. Instead of aiming for a one-for-one replica, the focus was on interpreting the brand within the game," says Lewin.
"STB's openness to creative feedback allowed for more intuitive and innovative results. This flexible approach ensured that the essence of Singapore was effectively communicated within the interactive platform, delivering a unique and compelling experience."
While STB has not yet established formal collaborations with Roblox content creators, the promotion of Singapore Wanderland focused on reaching its target audience of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who are active consumers of game content on platforms like YouTube.
Lewin explains an analysis of trends of both Roblox players and content creators drove the necessity to factor in the provision of unique collectables and rewards in the game's design, so that players could earn and display beyond the Singapore Wanderland experience, or UGC (user-generated content in Roblox terms).
Many players and content creators keep a keen eye out for the latest UGC 'drops', which become useful acquisition tools to recruit new players and foster content creation.
"With new experiences built daily, the ongoing challenge gives players a reason to keep returning. We have already started planning for a consistent schedule of new 'drops' and world updates to keep the experience top of mind and keep players coming back to explore everything that Singapore Wanderland offers," says Lewin.
Achieving and measuring ROI
Brands' return on investment (ROI) in the metaverse ultimately depends on the outcome. For example, when a brand joins Web3 and wants to auction NFTs to release them on certain days for sale, the ultimate output is the same as any event or campaign.
Most gaming environments integrate with third-party data partners that help tie those efforts to measurement KPIs they are already tracking across alternative channels. Examples may be the time in view, viewability, brand recognition, and brand lift. As such, it becomes imperative for brands to decide on the success metrics for a particular campaign and work backwards when designing content to maximise those efforts.
To help them achieve and measure such ROI, Roblox has introduced a new ad system that will allow brands to place immersive 3D ads within the virtual worlds and games hosted on its platform, and to diversify Roblox's revenue streams beyond in-app purchases.
The company will test various ad formats, including static images like billboards and 'portals' that transport players to branded experiences. Revenue from the ads will be shared with developers, and Roblox has already started testing portal ads with brands like Vans and Warner Bros. The new ad experience will only target users aged 13 and above, and Roblox will disclose when experiences contain ads.
"What is exciting with web3 campaigns is how much more deeply and accurately we can execute and measure. With NFTs, we have got a whole new playground. From exclusive collectables to special online and offline gated experiences that only a few people can access, based on certain behaviours," explains Webster.
"The value of community is now measurable through participation and co-creation of value, which can, in turn, be used to reward the community. Nike's.SWOOSH Web3 community is the best brand case in this space."
For Singapore Wanderland, Stefanie Liew, general manager of Digitas Singapore, one of the agencies in Shophouse@Publicis, says Roblox worlds like Sunsilk and Nikeland were a benchmark for the campaign.
The objectives of Shophouse@Publicis were clear: reach 10 million visits within the first three months and maintain an average 'like' ratio of 85%.
Shophouse@Publicis claim the campaign hit four million visits in just one month, surpassing their monthly target by 120.12%, and achieved a close 'like' ratio of 84%.
There were high repeat visit rates, with about 40% of the 1.2 million monthly active users returning weekly, with visitors from the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Singapore's neighbouring countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.
Over 800,000 UGC items, including 'Supertree hats' and 'Singapore Flyer backpacks' have also been claimed.
"For brands considering similar projects, it is crucial to set clear objectives tied to your overall marketing and business goals, whether increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, or engaging existing audiences," explains Liew.
"Once your objectives are set, identify KPIs like the number of visits, active users, average playtime, sessions per user, and repeat visits. These help gauge engagement and inform optimisations. Lastly, analysing user behaviour is critical to understanding interactions, preferences, and time spent on specific elements. This data assists in refining the user experience and driving desired outcomes."
Liew adds: "Despite the challenges, measuring the ROI of virtual activations in the metaverse is achievable with these strategies."
Insights gained from user actions, preferences, and engagement can also help brands tailor their strategies for better outcomes. For instance, identifying which activities and interactions resonate with users can guide future developments and enhance the user experience.
"The key is continuously monitoring and analysing these insights to optimise and adapt activations to your audience's evolving interests and behaviours," says Liew. "The data and analytics from virtual experiences can be invaluable in shaping virtual and physical marketing strategies."
Key takeaways for brands
Lewin says brands need to remember success in this arena is all about the players. He points out their most successful virtual experiences are additive as they tell a new story and reward players for the time they have chosen to invest in the experience.
Lewin explains the adage 'if we build it, they will come' does not apply in gaming and metaverses. because there is too much choice and competition vying for a player's attention and time.
"Players are also notoriously protective over their favourite platforms, so brands need to exhibit an understanding of their target audience's needs. Brands need to ensure that the language and tone are appropriate and relevant to their investing environment," Lewin says.
"A final keynote often overlooked is that the game needs to work. Stringent planning must be conducted on load times, server capacity, and device experiences. Factoring for ongoing bug fixes and game maintenance is critical to keeping players happy."
In addition, Liew says in the metaverse; brands must balance monetisation and engaging, user-centric design by avoiding 'pay to win' models that can disrupt the user experience.
Instead, she says brands should focus on monetisation methods that enhance gameplay and allow personal expression, as virtual spaces are prime real estate for players to showcase their individuality. For example, offering purchasable items or rewards for personal expression can provide revenue streams without impacting gameplay. Whether a unique outfit or an exclusive item, such additions allow players to stand out and strengthen their connection to the brand.
"Remember to reward players for their time and commitment. Be it through a progress-based rewards system or loyalty perks, acknowledging player investment can enhance user satisfaction," explains Liew. "As brands expand in the metaverse, maintaining a balance between monetisation and user experience is vital. A positive player experience is truly the most valuable currency in this space."
Finally, with interoperability between virtual worlds possible and a shared social connection, Webster too, believes things will get much more enjoyable.
"The opportunity for brands is to think about new ways in which they can deliver real value: not only by creating artificial scarcity through the use of NFTs and smart contracts but by imagining new ways to reward their customers, building experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible or impossible in the world, by engaging communities in previously unimaginable ways."