Vice Media Group has partnered architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to open a virtual headquarters – "Viceverse" – inside the metaverse.
The virtual space, which opened to the public this week, is located on the Decentraland platform and will serve as the agency’s virtual innovation lab.
Aside from establishing a permanent presence in a "metaworld", Vice told Campaign the space will allow clients to experiment with NFTs, DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations) and Web 3.0.
In Viceverse, clients and collaborators can meet for briefings, presentations and demonstrations of metaworld experiments.
The initiative is being managed by Virtue Futures, which is the innovation division of Vice’s creative culture agency, Virtue.
Virtue's clients include Logitech, Converse, L’Oréal, Beats by Dre and Coca-Cola. It helped the latter launch its first NFT last year. It is led by co-president and chief creative officer Chris Garbutt, former CCO at TBWA.
The Virtue Futures project is being led by global executive creative director of innovation, Morten Grubak.
The agency's partner on the project, BIG, is the Danish architectural firm behind The Pyramid building in Manhattan and Google’s Mountain View North Campus.
Grubak approached Garbutt with the idea to launch an office in the metaverse last year after the agency had been working with clients on virtual fashion, NFTs and launch parties in metaworlds.
“It just made sense to make a space for ourselves where we can invite clients and collaborators to dip their toes in that space without actually doing a big-scale campaign. That’s why we set up an office,” Grubak told Campaign.
“It's not about just getting in there and planting a flag, we wanted to do it in style with aesthetics and ideas when creating, so we teamed up with BIG.”
Garbutt summed it up as: “Instead of just telling people how great your equipment is and how creative you can be, you give the community the tools to be creative, and then you give them the real estate to create on.
“The big difference between us being behind this or a traditional agency is the fact that we can program it with content and keep it alive and breathing within culture.”
Campaign was taken on a brief tour of Vice Media’s virtual office before it was officially launched. It takes the form of a large cube with a tunnel that snakes inside it, exposing different levels and rooms as you make your way up.
There are various digital experiments and “hidden extras” for those who explore it, including a path for young creatives to reach “meta-mentors”. The office will also serve as a centre for “digital field research into the sociology of digital communities”.
Although there are many "metaworlds" that make up the "metaverse", Vice’s decision to build in Decentraland was down to several factors.
First, Decentraland is an open-source platform, which means it is open to anyone to be able to create and experiment once they have bought a patch of land.
“It seemed right for us to build in a place where communities are built and subcultures merge. For us, utility is the most important thing and the possibility to make an organic space that we're in constantly that we can constantly change," Grubak said.
"We're going to have two floors to begin with, and a secret one as well. And then we can upgrade with a new floor [as the project develops] because the building is designed to be 12 floors tall. Visually, it is aesthetically by far the most beautiful open metaverse platform, even though it still looks like a PlayStation One game.”
But why now?
Most tech experts agree that the metaverse is still very much in its infancy, with brands, agencies and even tech platforms grappling without how to make these spaces engaging, immersive and fun.
Then there is the tech itself, with relatively rudimentary graphics and limited functionality.
There’s no doubt about the hype the metaverse is generating for brands, with several reports of a growing number of briefs with metaverse, NFT and crypto ambitions.
Garbutt explained that for Vice Media Group, having a presence early on in the evolution of the metaverse makes sense.
“We're a youth culture media company that already likes to be obsessed with where the world goes next,” he said. “It makes complete sense to embed ourselves as a brand and an experience within these spaces and culture. And then find new ways to engage with our audiences and create these value exchanges.
“At the essence we believe the future of marketing and its power is in the hands of the community, and the evolution of subscription-based platforms is going to become community-owned platforms.”
Finding a meta-purpose
Virtue Futures has noted a rise in clients “intrigued” and “excited” about activating inside the metaverse, but the agency admits that it is still a steep learning curve for many. This was another motivating factor to creating a sort of sandbox solution where clients could trial new things.
Grubak said that if brands want to be “inside the culture of the future”, then they need to be inside the metaverse.
“The biggest thing for us at the moment is to help brands find their purpose inside the metaverse instead of just building stuff, because that would be the stupidest way to approach it,” he said.
“So we're really using a lot of our time really advising and making a strategy for how to launch your digital goods, and on what type of platform to make sense for your audience.”
For client Coca-Cola, its work is based largely on product innovation ideas and creating immersive branded experiences to help it engage with its audience around its product launches.
Garbutt also identifies Logitech as another active in the metaverse, with plans already in place to work with several more.
He said all clients are “prudent and cautious” but “obsessed by the opportunity”.
“You know, it’s a bit like the Wild West. Another colleague of ours talks about sort of going into frontier with a tent and a horse and you're going to get a bit fucked up along the way. So a lot of our clients are experimenting and dipping their toes in the water, but others are a little bit ahead and recognise that they have to be in that space.
“They have to move at the speed of culture; they stand the risk of becoming irrelevant if they don't move fast enough.”
On this note, creating KPIs and ROIs carries a bit of trial and error on a platform that is literally being built around them.
Although there is much more to be figured out in terms of effectiveness, Grubak said Virtue Futures' approach to meta-KPIs is “how do we make a meaningful engagement with our audience and build the perfect experience that feels like a value exchange”.
To the hardened chief marketer, this might sound a touch hypothetical, but that is the reality of metaverse marketing at this particular juncture.
Vice Media Group has gambled that, with rapid improvements in technology, infrastructure and access to metaworlds, the metaverse will not fall by the wayside in the same way as Second Life did in the early noughties.
As a multi-platform media company that positions itself as being at the intersection of youth culture and media – it believes having a permanent presence on the metaverse is a “no-brainer”. The question is, will brands agree once the meta-hype subsides?