While many continue to debate just how ‘real’ the metaverse economy is and what true impact it will have on the marcomms industry, TBWA Asia has been given a fresh mandate from one of its newest clients that gives us a window into how agency work in this space may evolve.
Altava Group, a privately held venture-founded company developed and headquartered in Asia with business operations in the US and Europe, is as much of a metaverse pure-play as you will probably find.
Founded by Korean video game developer Andy Ku from Seoul with business development in Singapore, Altava’s aim is to “democratise luxury fashion and retail in the metaverse.” It aims to do so through: Customised virtual experiences created for brands (such as a virtual dressing room created for Fendi’s vertical summer capsule collection or its gamified virtual scavenger hunt for Bulgari); a digital marketplace called Altava Market selling a range of NFTs involving fashion, music and lifestyle products; and a new app that links to the market and serves as a gamified social commerce platform called Altava Worlds of You.
The app just launched in Korea and the company plans to roll it out in China by the end of December, followed by Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines) in January before going global. It allows you to create a profile, customise your avatar (to look like yourself or not) and connects to your crypto wallet and the Altava Market, where you can shop for NFT fashion items, try them out in the app and go socialise with this new ‘version of you’ on the platform or by sharing through regular social-media channels.
In the process of mixing and matching shoes, bags and clothing on their avatars, users can either buy the virtual products in-app or be directed to the brand’s ecommerce page to purchase the physical product ‘in real life’.
Selling virtual fashion through digital marketplaces is not unique to Altava, which faces a deluge of competitors, including new digital fashion houses like The Fabricant, which similarly works with other brands, distributes free virtual items and also has a virtual space to try out your virtual styles. Other digital fashion retailers similarly sell a variety of virtual fashion products (often, but not always at lower prices than physical products) and some, like Drest, also add gamification elements to their marketplaces.
Altava’s differentiators, the company says, revolve around its stable of brand assets and its technology.
"We have the largest digital library of luxury brands,” says Altava Group’s US head Karina Cha. “To date we’re reaching almost 1500 digital assets that we’ve accumulated through these years,” with 40 brands now available on the app.
The company history that Cha is referencing is a much longer one than the newcomers to the space. Founder Andy Ku’s first company, in 2007, revolved around social gaming with customisable avatars. He saw how much users were spending to dress their characters and since 2012 has been on a mission to bring brand-name designer clothing into the space by including fashion-world insiders into the company, previously known as Unmatereality, with its core platform app called Ada, now succeeded by Worlds of You.
While having high-fashion contacts helped, the real selling point to the luxury brand houses, according to the company, was its technology, which incorporated the software engineers’ meticulous detail to how different fabrics and materials behave under various conditions. This technology is now incorporated into the fashion items available on the app.
“They are photorealistic, high-fidelity 3D renders of garments, and the beauty of our game is that we offer a multi-layering system that really is not [elsewhere],” Cha says. “A lot of the [other] games are just one flat skin.”
“We’re talking about fashion here, so detail matters,” adds Melissa Hill, TBWA Asia’s group business lead for Altava, who points to the company’s bespoke project for Vogue at the Met Gala as a showcase of its attention to detail. The project turned six models, including Precious Lee and Joan Smalls, into 3D photorealistic avatars to give readers 360-degree views of them on the red carpet.
Few know exactly how brands want to engage with people in the metaverse, which is why Altava is involved with several businesses at once. Some want customised experiences, others want customers to try out their wares in the metaverse to increase physical purchases and minimise product returns. Some benefit from the data around how users (including a high proportion of men, we’re told) pair and engage with their virtual products. And many brands are curious to see how far the NFT market will take them.
“What they're doing that's really smart is they're treating [the metaverse] similar to how like a lot of marketing should and will be treated, which is open,” says Tessa Conrad, TBWA Asia’s head of innovation. “It’s not like a funnel. You can come in through the NFTs, you can come in through a Met Gala technology piece or you can come in just wanting to play the game and not know about all these other things if you don’t want to. There are lots of entry points, but the interconnectivity will build and continue to grow.”
Building the future
From TBWA’s perspective, the ongoing growth and learning that comes from a client like Altava is more valuable than the commercial aspects of winning the competitive pitch and getting a mandate to market an app. TBWA is not only helping Altava with attracting new cross-industry partnerships, but with breaking down the app’s different components alongside the wider Altava Group capabilities with technology, tokens, NFTs and more.
Conrad says the creative will be taking a very test-and-learn approach with no 'big idea' campaign. Work with banner assets, paid social and organic content will be aimed at guiding the direction of fans while reacting to data to ensure they’re adding value. With a more collaborative relationship in supporting Altava, Conrad sees benefit in helping the agency develop skills and retain talent, especially younger coworkers who are especially keen.
“It's a good chance for us to force our business model to evolve. It’s very rare when you talk about synergy that you have a client that's really going to push you on innovation,” says Conrad. She notes that an internal discussion channel on Altava and the metaverse is among her most active groups since the metaverse is changing all the time. “It forces us to really be on our toes and think of things.”
Among the plans TBWA is excited to work on with Altava is in launching a decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO), reflecting Altava’s desire to ‘democratise’ fashion. The plan is to not only learn from customers based on who’s using the app and what they’re doing in it, but to build out a community across tech, gaming and fashion that will give the agency a chance to play a role in shaping the app and Altava’s business growth. This will aim to be done through a ‘community council’ to have conversations around drops, with usage of brands, influencers and garments all put up to a vote.
Another interesting opportunity may be in engaging with other TBWA clients. “There are tons of clients that we're doing metaverse-related discussions with, whether its NFTs, ‘test and learns’, virtual influencers or the like,” Conrad says. “We’ve been actively talking about how the Altava Worlds of You app will be a really good canvas to bring to our clients when it launches in their local market.”
“We get super stoked about it because it’s the future that they’re building.” Conrad adds. “Web3 here we come.”