Welcome to the metaverse. In the wake of Facebook's recent rebranding as Meta we've been hearing a lot about how the company is inducting its users into the metaverse, where augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies provide an engaging online experience. In the brave new world of an "embodied internet” users will no longer be just looking at a computer screen, they will be completely immersed in a fully-realised computer-generated experience — scrolling, posting and commenting within it.
Imagine donning goggles, controlling a three-dimensional virtual avatar and browsing a series of virtual storefronts where you buy digital clothes, or gathering with friends in the virtual landscape to watch a concert in a virtual theatre, or acquiring virtual real estate where your online businesses can sell their wares. No longer fantastical, these features are already available.
To help understand how AR and VR will expand our presence and give us the opportunity to connect in all-embracing, authentic ways, regardless of physical location, here are highlights from the fifth installment from Pioneers | Conversations on our Industry’s Future, featuring Samsung’s Olivier Bockenmeyer, regional head of corporate marketing, Southeast Asia and Oceania, in conversation with Tawana Murphy Burnett, director, global client & categories, APAC at Meta and Campaign Asia’s deputy editor and technology editor, Jessica Goodfellow. Appropriately, this panel discussion was hosted, for the first time, in avatar form within the metaverse.
The time is now
In a recent Facebook IQ survey, 75 percent of business leaders say they plan on deploying AR/VR by 2023, with global spending expected to grow sixfold by 2025. In many areas, the APAC region has led the way in breaking barriers and bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds. China has emerged as a key global player, due to the enthusiasm of Chinese consumers for emerging technologies and also because of increased government support for technological self-reliance. At the same time, “Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand in particular, with their digitally-savvy millennials, are also very eager to experiment and adopt new technologies,” says Bockenmeyer, whose company is in the AR/VR vanguard.
Indeed, South Korea has emerged as a key player in the metaverse, spring-boarding from its red hot gaming industry and phenomenally popular culture content. And like China, the South Korean government has created a metaverse alliance to coordinate and facilitate the development of virtual and augmented reality platforms. To date, several hundred firms, including Samsung, Hyundai Motors, and SK Telecom have joined.
As Goodfellow points out, Samsung itself has long been ahead of the hi-tech curve. In partnership with Oculus, the electronics giant was an early adopter of VR technology, debuting the innovative Gear VR headset back in 2015. “That launch was perhaps a bit too early,” says Bockenmeyer, “but now the VR base is in place for liftoff with a growing user base, more affordable price points, hardware advances and growing connectivity with 5G. In the metaverse, the entire ecosystem is converging to deliver new experiences to consumers.”
Burnett cites gaming as a gateway to AR/VR, though the technologies are now moving to new sectors such as digital arts, education, entertainment, health and sports. The global pet food industry leader Nestlé Purina, for example, uses the Oculus for Business platform to empower and educate employees with virtual experiences. Whatever the sector, brands and businesses will find opportunity and challenge in how they use digital transformation to reinvent the ways they interact with consumers. “Whenever there’s a technological leap, some brands will initially try and replicate the past by transposing successful real-world strategies — traditional advertising spots for instance — to the digital world,” says Bockenmeyer.
“While the 'right' digital strategy differs for every brand,” Bockenmeyer continues, “this paradigm shift in the marketing world is sure to include many more new formats, such as an in-game presence, sponsored avatars, virtual showrooms, and more. Whatever happens, it’s beneficial for marketing practitioners to keep in mind that technology is the enabler. Brands, together with content creators, educators, influencers and other players in the ecosystem will still need to offer a relevant, value-added experience by creating a space that comes to life.”
Balancing cost and quality
In the not-so-distant future, the VR/AR movement will supercharge advertising and marketing efforts and make this an increasingly legitimate branding channel. “But as the audience size grows, says Bockenmeyer, “and the proliferation of affordable hardware and software have made AR and VR more viable and desirable in APAC, including in Southeast Asia where adoption and penetration of digital experiences is in many cases even higher than in the west — we must consider what kind of metaverse we are creating.
While brands can add immense value to their marketing efforts using VR and AR, Bockenmeyer reminds us that people don’t always want to escape from reality. “There has to be the right balance of EQ and IQ, between nourishing yourself and being productive and inspired in the virtual universe, while remaining grounded in the real world.”
This installment of Pioneers is the first of two in a mini-series looking at AR/VR, the shift from mobile to the metaverse. The next instalment, released in January, will look at how brands are approaching the topic, with a future look at consumer shifts. Campaign editor-in-chief Gideon Spanier will be joined by Yasmin Dastmalchi, GM NYX Professional Makeup at L’Oreal and Meta’s Leigh Thomas, global client and categories director, EMEA.
Pioneers | Conversations on our Industry’s Future is a thought leadership series brought to you by Campaign and Meta, exploring emerging trends and cutting-edge insights on the changes that will shape the future of the marketing and advertising industry for years to come.