On Valentine’s Day this year, we got a glimpse of how romance would look like in the parallel universe when Mondelez India’s brand, Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk, set up a dinner date in the Metaverse. More recently, the chocolate-maker used virtual reality to onboard new hires and give them a cultural tour of the company.

This IPL, new franchise Lucknow Super Giants took fan engagement to extra immersive levels when — with the help of Gigabyte Technology — it launched itself into the metaverse. Fans could meet and greet avatars of their cricketing idols and get a glimpse of Lucknow’s heritage.

AD Singh led Olive Group has been one of the first few restaurant brands to foray into the Metaverse — or the Oliverse as it calls it — and offer non-fungible tokens (NFTs) coupled with unique virtual experiences to guests.

From FMCG companies to restaurant chains and from fashion and cosmetics players to sports franchises, brands have begun making their early bets on the Metaverse in the country. Brands such as ITC, Nestle India, and Tata Tea have begun experiments with the Metaverse. At the same time, movie stars, sports franchises and cricket stars are all launching their NFTs.

Shared virtual space

While metaverse is the buzzword at the moment, the definition itself is hotly debated. Experts believe the metaverse in all its glory will be a world parallel to our physical world, decentralised and not owned by any company. Applications could be endless. Imagine donning digital avatars to participate in events, learn forensics, or hug your loved one from across the world using technology. It is a shared virtual space that is interactive, immersive and hyper-realistic. It will include augmented reality, virtual reality or 3D worlds rendered on the smartphone, besides customised avatar and digital assets.

It’s imperative for brands to make a move now. For as a recent report by JP Morgan says, “Metaverse will likely infiltrate every sector in some way in the coming years, with market opportunity estimated at over $1 trillion in yearly revenues.” Globally, brands have been making their Metaverse moves at a frenetic pace. Coca-Cola has already launched its virtual drink called Coke Zero Byte, while McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chiptole have been busy launching their virtual restaurants in the Metaverse.

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In India too, experiments on the Metaverse have begun for fan engagement and brand building.

Dheeraj Sinha, CEO, Leo Burnett - South Asia and Chairman, BBH India says so far it has been a bit of a mixed bag. “While some brands are just trying to do something cool to be a part of the bandwagon, others are focussing on real interventions. For instance, our client GOQii is launching the Health Metaverse and we are helping them build that piece,” he says.

The appeal of utilising metaverse for brand building purposes is pretty straightforward — it opens new avenues for consumer engagement. According to McKinsey & Company, the Metaverse will enable brand marketing to become more consumer-led, which in turn can raise brand awareness massively and promote sales and brand loyalty.

Brands are already seeing such returns in the world of smartphone-enabled augmented reality. At the recently concluded Goafest, Prashant Halbe, Senior Creative Strategist, Snap Inc demonstrated how brands such as Lay’s, Nike, and Spotify utilised Snap filters to chalk up sales, downloads or simply to communicate concepts.

Simply put, consumers were opting into the ad to play with the filter. “When a consumer can interact with the brand, they are far more likely to retain the messaging. People already use Snap filters for fun, now brands can leverage this habitual user behaviour for their advantage,” Halbe explained. In the world of metaverse marketing, consumers will be able to immerse themselves into the world built by the brand entirely dedicated to its products.

Tech tools

Tech companies are working to bring forth the Metaverse. Sandeep Bhushan, Director and Head of Global Marketing Solutions (GMS) at Meta India recently said the company (formerly known as Facebook) believes its job is to accelerate the tools needed to bring the Metaverse to life.

From Meta Sparks to Horizon Worlds, the tech giant has recently been sharpening its play in this space in terms of offering these tools. With 6 million reels being produced in India every day and 700 million people globally using AR effects and Meta technologies every month, Bhushan believes businesses will need to make the shift now and prepare for the future. Meanwhile, for users, Meta has launched 3D Avatars that are expressive, customisable and diverse and allow new virtual selves to be projected.

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Meta is not the only one, other players in the big tech space are getting there too. Snapchat will be debuting its augmented reality spectacles pretty soon. Google, Apple, and Microsoft are all working on AR headsets. The message from big tech to brands is clear — digital concepts (from AR to Metaverse) will need to become an integral part of their brand-building exercise in the future.

Amaresh Godbole, CEO of Digital Technology Publicis Groupe India, notes, “Web 3.0 requires agencies to build both creative and technology capability. People who can think of how to connect consumer needs, brands and ideas to the possibilities of blockchain, virtual worlds, NFTs etc. with technology language skills such as Solidity and Unity to make it happen. Given that there isn’t clear visibility on the revenue opportunity yet, agencies are looking at a mix of upskilling, strategic hires and partnering with skill-specific contractors and start-ups.”

Experts, however, believe the transition of consumers to the Metaverse will happen rather quickly and could reach an inflection point in countries like India in the next three to five years. It’s time for brands to get their virtual acts together.