In 2018, the movie Ready Player One piqued Chinese consumers’ curiosity about the Metaverse. In one scene, a particularly stark transition between dreary everyday life and fantastic cyberworld showed a fantastic vision of where this all may take us one day. Since then, many prototypes have been made in speculative works, immersing audiences in wild journeys. Yet, as Ready Player One cautions, the Metaverse is “a place where the limits of reality are your own imagination” – and these limits still appear quite narrow.
The current state of the Metaverse is gravitating toward a 3D replica of reality, rather than a land of imagination that leaves the confines of reality behind and offers a truly new way of conceptualising how we engage with our surrounding.
Most brands, too, seem tied down by the rules of reality and are unable to move beyond replication.
Hyundai, for instance, like many other car companies, set out to showcase a new experience of mobility for the Metaverse. They partnered with Roblox, intending to redefine how Hyundai is more than just a box that moves people from A to B. Yet it ended up being another 3D car simulation with worldlike roads, and buildings placed on the sides in a theme park setting. While still a creative act from an enterprise side, it could hardly be seen as a ground-breaking innovation bringing a wow factor to consumers.
Similarly, instead of reinventing the shopping experience, say, by using the Metaverse to bring to life abstract ideas such as ‘savour the world’s flavours in your shopping cart’, Walmart simply 3D-modelled its shopping carts and shelves in its attempt. But while investors may be dazzled by “tokenized products” and other buzzwords, it is hard to see how a canned good, even if tokenized, will stoke user excitement.
Partial replication is no mistake per se of course. Using references to reality to help people navigate new virtual worlds is key for accessibility. However, many brands do not move beyond mirroring because it is the fastest road to monetization. In the long run, however, the branded Metaverse risks becoming a version of the “uncanny valley”.
To bring something truly new, brands’ forays into the Metaverse need something emotional, something imaginative, in short, brands need to experiment in this new lab space offered to them.
Gucci’s Roblox town is a perfect example. It takes advantage of three properties of the metaverse: digital-only, space-exclusive, and time-limited. According to Gucci, Vault is “a digital destination dedicated to those seeking the unexpected”. The online platform creates a space for fashionistas to showcase their personalities, and more importantly, it sets up a stage to allow them to redefine fashion in this metaverse, rather than merely being served Gucci’s idea of it. Inside, participants can engage by designing their own digital items, playing games exclusive to Vault, and visiting art installations that shapes the town’s culture. Compared with other brands being content setters, Gucci acts an agenda-setter, funnelling participants’ creativity to incubate new ideas for fashion in this virtual world. This approach to turn participants into co-creators could be an inspiring guide for other brands when curating their metaverse in the future.
We believe the beauty of Metaverse lies in what is yet to be created. If brands want to succeed in Metaverse, the optimal solution is to aim for imagination and re-invention. Don’t waste your money on duplicating what you already created.