Everyone is talking about the metaverse. Bill Gates estimates that in just a couple of years, most office meetings will take place in the metaverse. Apple, Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook) are all investing billions in their own solutions, and according to research firm Strategy Analytics, the worldwide metaverse industry is expected to reach about $42 billion by 2026.
There has also been much talk about what the metaverse means for the world of events, given that it could potentially open a whole world of possibilities for brands to interact with audiences in new ways. Recognising this opportunity, brand experience specialist TBA Group has made moves to ensure it is an early adopter and ahead of the curve in this space, partnering with Virtual Brand Group (VBG) back in March to ‘launch its clients across brands, sports and entertainment into the metaverse’.
But the metaverse is a mind boggling subject to get your head around. A quick search on the web returns hundreds of explanations, articles and white papers on it, each with a slightly different take. Luckily, US-based VBG’s CEO Justin Hochberg was in London last month, visiting TBA Group’s clients and the team, so we took the opportunity to meet with him and Guy Horner, CEO of TBA Group, to make sense of it all and find out more about their plans.
“There are loads of white papers on the metaverse, and everyone is talking about it, but not many people are doing it. A mutual contact introduced me to Justin because his company VBG has already put brands into the metaverse. They were among the first to launch and monetise a brand in Roblox with the work they did for Forever 21 last year,” says Horner.
“With the sports rights’ holders and global brands that we work with, I needed proof points to be able to say to our clients, this is the metaverse, this is how it works, and this is what we have already done. Partnering with Virtual Brand Group gives us that. They have the practical experience, real-life knowledge and case studies to be able to help and guide our clients.”
For Forever 21, VBG built an “interactive gamified experience that empowered people to own the brand and play in and around the world of fashion.” Hochberg explains: “We translated what is usually a very limited experience, shopping, into entertainment. Consumers could build and run their own store, pick the merchandise, deal with customers, work the cash register and more, earning points along the way, to get more customisation and cool stuff.”
The Forever 21 world, Shop City, which also featured a parkour obstacle course, an amphitheatre so people could put on their own fashion shows, and food trucks where they could stop and hang out with friends, racked up a staggering $20m in sales for the fashion brand on Roblox in the first three months.
Keeping it simple
But isn’t there more to the metaverse than Roblox, which is just one of multiple metaverses already out there or under development. And don’t you need expensive VR goggles and technology to fully experience it? Hochberg says that while the hardware will eventually catch up and become more affordable and accessible, all you need right now is a smart phone to access these experiences.
Horner says: “As soon as you start to try and explain the metaverse, you suddenly get very quickly bamboozled with closed and open platforms, blockchain, crypto, NFTs, and all the jargon and technology, which is constantly changing anyway, so clients don’t know where to start. That’s why we often start with Roblox because it is relatable to them.”
Hochberg adds: “It’s about taking this very complex idea down to something very basic. We start by asking our clients if they have children, and if they do, we ask if they have heard of Roblox or Fortnite, which the majority have. So, we say that is an example of a metaverse. We then don’t need to talk about blockchain or Meta, because they then have a picture in their mind, they know what it is, they know there is demand for it because their own kids are using it, and they know it can be monetised because they are more than likely being asked to buy Robux or V-Bucks.”
Roblox has over 200m users per month and more than 50 million daily active users globally. “More time is spent on Roblox on average per month than TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix combined. When you start talking these statistics with brands, they quickly understand the potential and want to tap into this audience,” says Hochberg.
While it’s still early days in the partnership between the two agencies, Horner says that interest and demand is high, which is evident by the 20-plus meetings they have had with major brands and sports rights holders. “By the end of this year, I think we will see a sports league, a city and at least two different retail/consumer brands launch in the metaverse as a result of this collaboration,” says Hochberg. “Brands will show up in different ways – some of might be in Roblox, some might be in the form of crypto rewards programmes, or in various forms of NFTs, while others might be virtual fashion or merchandise lines that brands are selling.”
TBA sees the metaverse as a natural extension of its existing offering for its B2B, automotive, sports and entertainment clients – it already creates experiences in the physical world, and more recently in the virtual world, so the metaverse is the natural next step.
“The opportunity in the metaverse is so much bigger than virtual events. The problem with virtual events is how to create a really good experience for audiences. In the metaverse, consumers are creating the experience for themselves. They can explore, create things, and socialise in ways that are more akin to real life – it’s far more engaging and absorbing,” says Horner.
He believes the metaverse will be an amazing driver back to heightened physical experiences. “We are not going to live our whole life in the metaverse. It won’t replace physical experiences, but it allows brands and sports and entertainment providers to reach new audiences. For example, you might be part of a brand experience in the metaverse, playing rugby or racing cars, which then drives you to the live experience. You might never have been a rugby or motor racing fan, but you enjoyed it so much in the metaverse that you end up wanting to have the physical experience.”
What about the world of business events? Horner believes B2B events give risk averse brands the opportunity to dip their toe in the water with internal audiences before they implement it into their B2C strategies. He’s excited about the possibilities for conferences, product launches, and training events. “Doing these types of events in the metaverse will be far more engaging than virtual events are right now, where you are often just sitting at a screen watching a live stream broadcast. You will be able to meet with colleagues like you do in real life, and there is far more scope to be creative and take away the barriers you have with a physical venue. For example, you can create an experience in space or anywhere in the world.”