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What’s next for the metaverse?

From buzzword and beyond, agencies tell us how they view their meta-investments.
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Credit: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Francis Scialabba, Photo: Getty Images/Radu Bercan/EyeEm

· 5 min read

You’re in the south of France. The sun is sparkling off of the Mediterranean like a disco ball, and there’s enough shrimp and rosé to give whoever’s approving expense reports an aneurysm.

And yet, among the topics du jour of Cannes Lions is a supposedly democratized experience that can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere—of course, I’m talking about the metaverse.

Over the course of the festival, Paris Hilton and Gary Vaynerchuk hawked NFTs (to a nearly sold-out theater, we might add), execs from R/GA, Christie’s, and Accenture Song discussed “sustainability in the metaverse,” and Meta, naturally, explored “the future of avatars.” Even cybersecurity firm Human held a panel called “Hacking the Metaverse.”

The industry knows the metaverse is  something and, maybe more importantly, something to talk about. Throughout the festival, Marketing Brew chatted with industry folks about where the ✨metaverse✨ stands today. Though there’s excitement, it was—like many Web3 conversations—mostly ethereal ad-speak, light on examples and figures. And all set to the backdrop of a cratering crypto market.

Regardless, there’s expected to be real money there: metaverse spending will surpass $5 trillion by 2030, according to a prediction from McKinsey.

So…uh…where are we?

Well, to hear it from Meta directly—who’s just one player alongside platforms like Roblox, Decentraland, and Fortnite—the ad industry is still in the experimentation and education phase, explained Alvin Bowles, VP, business ecosystem partnerships at Meta.

Despite metaverse applications being the fastest growing investment in terms of production and engineering resources, it’s hard to scale educating brands and buyers on the different ways to create a unique experience there, he said.

“It’s all educational. [The metaverse] is a concept; we don’t own the metaverse. There are going to be a lot of different iterations of how this comes to life and it’s going to mean different things to different people,” he told Marketing Brew from the Meta beach at Cannes.

He pointed to Wendy’s “Wendyverse” that came out on Meta’s Horizon Worlds in April, which began as a “promotional vehicle” for the brand that has since developed into a larger campaign that Wendy’s is continuing to invest in, Bowles said, overcoming one of the biggest challenges Web3 faces—expanding beyond one-off experiments towards full-fledged experiences that can continue to have a life well beyond a headline-grabbing stunt.

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At Cannes, BMW’s Mini brand and Fender announced that they’re setting up shop in Horizon Worlds. Wunderman Thompson also unveiled a Cannes metaverse experience on Odyssey, following up on the agency’s CES stunt.

Agencies feel a similar sentiment regarding the tip-toe approach to the metaverse, explained Joe Kessler, partner and global head of United Talent Agencies data practice.

“There’s an expectation that one day a magic door is going to open and all of a sudden we’re going to be in the metaverse, when in reality what we’re looking at is the evolution of a set of technologies that will come together to create the Web3 metaverse,” he told Marketing Brew.

Some say more time might be needed. “Right now, most metaverse ecosystems are kind of missing the frameworks and the technical infrastructure to support our responsible-investment pillars. It’s very much a living experience, it’s really unpredictable—anything can happen,” said Sarah Salter, global head of applied innovation at Wavemaker. WPP, Wavemaker’s holding company, announced a partnership with Epic Games in May to “accelerate innovation” in the metaverse, whatever that means.

“I think it’s too early to say that there is a single platform that has secured their spot as the one platform for which the metaverse can be built upon, said Douglas Rozen, CEO of Dentsu Media Americas. “I think what we’re advising clients is that experimentation is important, but…you should do it in an intentional and purposeful way. It’s not, ‘I’m gonna go drop an NFT because all my other friends are doing NFTS,’ right?” he joked.

And what about NFTs? Their value has plummeted along with the crypto crash, seemingly dampening interest. “NFTs just turned off immediately in my world…when bitcoin started plunging,” said Jay Russell, chief creative officer and EVP at GSD&M, the agency behind Pizza Hut’s own NFT launch.

Christopher Whitman, a co-founder of the a metaverse-like experiential commerce company Open Grid—kind of like a video-game version of…shopping?—hopes that the “PR-ability” around the metaverse dies down and is eventually replaced with more meaningful investment.

Open Grid

“There’s a mandate from every single brand and every single shareholder to basically say, ‘We have to be exploring this future stuff, we need to age down, and we need to make sure that we’re capturing the hearts and minds of Gen Z,’” he told Marketing Brew. Since it was founded in late 2019, Open Grid has worked with PepsiCo and Complex Media.

“A lot of the things that we’ve done have been activated over the course of like one month or two months and then end,” he said. In the future, he wants to see brands “extend the life of that like to a year or two years long.”

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