R/GA London is launching a "direct to avatar" capability that will create virtual stores for brands within metaverse platforms, marking an evolution of direct-to-consumer selling.
The Interpublic agency is introducing the capability with a concept store for the high-tech clothing brand Vollebak within Decentraland, the blockchain-based metaverse platform.
Vollebak will use the store, which recreates the landscape of the planet Mars, to launch its Mars Jacket.
Decentraland users who visit the store can try on the jacket via their avatar (the character they control) and buy it as a non-fungible token using Mana, the blockchain-based currency of Decentraland. Owners of the NFT can then wear the jacket anywhere within Decentraland.
Alongside this, owners of the virtual jacket can "convert" it into a real, physical jacket through Vollebak’s website, which R/GA is also redeveloping, although this will require spending (a significant amount of) additional ordinary currency. The Decentraland store will open next month, with Vollabak’s new website following early next year.
Speaking to Campaign, R/GA London executive creative director Nick Pringle and managing director Rebecca Bezzina said that when the agency successfully pitched for Vollebak’s website work in February, the brand had not been looking for a metaverse idea.
Bezzina said: "What we did in the pitch [was] we showed when we look at a brand and we think of what a brand can do, and how they want to enter that space, what could that look like? And the [website] was just part of the equation."
The creative inspiration for the virtual store came partly from Vollebak’s background of opening shops in remote locations, such as at the Tjukayirla Roadhouse in Western Australia – a three-day drive from Perth.
"Vollebak have gone through a programme of creating remote stores around the world… they’ll find places in the most extreme places and go, right, you can stock our product,” Pringle said. “It’s a kind of statement of their point of view around extreme living and the products they make."
These products include the Indestructible Jacket, which was advertised in an entertaining film in 2019 that depicted scientists from the 71st century discovering the dead body of a 21st-century man, still dressed in his pristine Vollebak jacket.
Vollebak does not see itself as a fashion brand, Pringle said, it sees itself as a technology brand.
He continued, "What's interesting about the model and how they operate is they try and unlock material research from some of the best institutes around the world," – such as at MIT and Harvard. Those types of institutions are "creating new technologies in material design but they don't know how to commercialise them".
When it came to the Mars Jacket, Pringle said: "We first thought, 'Well, what are the most remote places in virtual spaces that we could build a store concept?'
"Then we started to think: 'Maybe this is a way of reimagining D2C as an experience.' If you're selling a product called the Mars Jacket, why can't we import you to an experience that feels like Mars in order for you to be able to learn about or get closer to that product?
"What's interesting is [that] there's no physics, and there's no precedent, so it really is up to us to define what it will be, and that's why I think the role for brands that define how these spaces get used is really interesting."
In a statement, Steve Tidball, chief executive of Vollebak, said: "We’re working on clothing and innovation that is designed to help us survive the next century – whether that’s exploring the most remote corners of Earth, unlocking new virtual worlds, or colonising Mars.
"Working with an innovation partner like R/GA London has enabled us to start unlocking the potential of direct-to-avatar commerce by launching our first clothing built for Mars in a virtual store that defies the laws of physics."
While the most basic purpose of the virtual jacket is as a snazzy garment to make avatars look sharp as they’re exploring Decentraland, Pringle said it could have many more functions.
"Where it gets really interesting is that, once you own the virtual products, what future experiences that unlocks for you," he said. "As an owner of this, I'm wandering around Decentraland, can I now unlock that experience elsewhere, which is kind of powered by Vollebak? Or do I come back to my store, and the experience keeps changing? So the wearable becomes a kind of a key."
The price of the virtual Mars Jacket is yet to be confirmed, but Pringle and Bezzina said it would be significantly more affordable than its physical counterpart, which is also yet to be confirmed. Vollebak’s existing jackets sell for between £395 and £895.
Whether brands follow in the footsteps of luxury brand Gucci, which earlier this year sold a digital handbag within Roblox for more than $4,000 – higher than the price of its physical counterpart – or aim for the mass market with an affordable item, Pringle said he sees direct to avatar as an opportunity for business growth, rather than just marketing.
Pringle said: "I wouldn't say right now there's going to be a massive revenue stream but I think, in time, it has the absolute potential to be that. The precedent is set by Roblox and by Fortnite and the amount that people are willing to spend on a wearable and the number of people willing to do that."
Bezzina added: "The beauty about this one is that it takes it into the physical space as well, which is really interesting for the brand, because that hasn't been done really as much."
R/GA is in the process of hiring a head of immersive to work specifically on direct to avatar. The offering will be "platform agnostic", Bezzina said. As well as Decentraland, it could make use of other metaverse platforms, such as The Sandbox.
"If you think about what you're seeing here, a lot of it is product done really well from a 3D and avatar point of view, in terms of taking real-life models and converting that into a virtual jacket," Bezzina said. "But those assets can be used across multiple platforms for our clients, not just in these spaces.
"We think it's going to fuel innovation in many parts of our business, but through this gateway in."
Beyond ecommerce applications, the next stage for brands in the metaverse could be story-based campaigns, Pringle said.
He continued: "Once you've got three-dimensional space, you can take someone on a journey. What they see and hear is the journey they take in order to get to the product, to unlock the product. So, absolutely, I think that storytelling will probably end up being the thing that elevates one experience from another."