How (and why) agencies are adapting to stay relevant in the metaverse
As brands ramp up their metaverse business in 2022, agencies are adjusting their game plans to stay relevant in the coming virtual world.
These days, proto-metavers platforms like Roblox and Fortnite are teeming with virtual activations by brands like AT&T and Ralph Lauren. These branded spaces are often designed by game development studios, most of whom started out as casual gamers. “At the beginning, we heard [Fortnite developer] Epic Games, and they would connect us with different brands,” said Michael Herriger, CEO of Fortnite studio Atlas Creative, whose clients include LG, Alienware and the NBA. “Our business model is now kind of split into two different deals that we get – an Epic Games brand deal and then a third-party deal.”
These game studios essentially act as metaversal agencies, designing and implementing virtual brand activations just as a traditional agency would in a physical space. This doesn’t mean that traditional agencies have been rendered obsolete by the metaverse – Atlas Creative’s LG activation was designed by the electronics company’s in-house agency, for example – but activations such as the recent foray NASCAR in Roblox were designed and implemented entirely by the developers, with no help from the agencies. NASCAR provided the intellectual property and visual assets, and development studio Badimo implemented them into its Roblox game, Jailbreak, and that was it — no need for an agency to get involved.
The emergence of these game studios and their resulting brand partnerships have created competition for traditional agencies. “I don’t think agencies can ignore this new space,” said Charles Hambro, CEO of esports and gaming consultancy and data platform GEEIQ. “You know, we went from print advertising in the 90s, then all of a sudden social media came along, and everyone was like, ‘oh my god, we need a social media strategy .’ A lot of the brands and agencies I talk to refer to that and say it’s like when we moved from print to social media, suddenly we had to learn this whole new world.
To feel more comfortable in this new environment, some agencies are embarking on experimental projects to claim their right to the metaverse. Companies such as agency holding group S4 Capital held board meetings in Horizon Workrooms; in December, Mediahub launched into the metaverse by establishing both a virtual office in the metaverse platform Decentraland and a dedicated channel on the messaging service Discord.
“Our use of Decentraland is less of an attempt to mirror an office space; it’s more that we have that starting point with one of the major platforms,” said Simeon Edmunds, vice president and chief creative officer at Mediahub. “More than a power of attorney office, it’s a starting point for conversations with clients. Any conversation on the metaverse can go in a number of directions – it’s much easier to say, “hey, if you click on this link, you can drop by and you WASD around.”
Initiatives like Mediahub’s virtual office are more of a dip than a leap of faith into the metaverse. Some agencies are also investing in more practical metaverse knowledge. In December, agency dentu Isobar Italy designed its own industry-inspired Roblox game, Pitch Blitz, to demonstrate its in-house metaverse design capabilities. “We used the Roblox editor,” said Massimiliano Chiesa, CEO of Isobar. “But since we have 3D guys, it allowed us to improve the editor, in terms of polygons and all that.”
Once brands become more comfortable operating in the Metaverse, some observers predict that traditional agencies and new developer companies in the Metaverse will strike a balance that allows both types of businesses to benefit from the boom. virtual space. “Both media and creative [agencies] say they do it all,” said Matt Maher, whose creative agency M7 Innovations focuses on future technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality. “The reality is that it’s not real because a creative agency just can’t afford the overhead of 25 visual effects artists just because a client might want to switch to 3D modeling.”
Indeed, as the metaverse takes shape, traditional agencies are unlikely to succeed in beefing up the game developers who have organically sprung up in the space. Instead, Edmunds said, metaverse-minded agencies should just keep doing what they do best: connecting brands to creators and their audiences. Although studios like Atlas Creative are beginning to forge their own relationships with brands, agencies have longstanding relationships with brands and can help brands with cross-platform campaigns, not just platform-specific activations. “These developers – what they don’t have, what we have as an agency, is the long-term relationship, not just with clients, but with this brand, and understanding what makes strategic sense for them,” Edmunds said. . “So, yes, from a pure production perspective, you can have anyone build anything. But having someone who’s spent three years laying things out and knows how all the major stakeholders are going to react to something – this is a level of knowledge that still needs to be in place.
Whether we end up calling it the metaverse or not, it’s clear that consumers and the brands that serve them are increasingly spending their time (and money) in the virtual space. Agencies that have missed the mark on past innovations, such as social media and gaming, will seek to assert their authority in the metaverse in these early days. “If you want to be relevant, if you want to be part of this change, you have to,” said Fikret Fetahovic, CPO of Publicis Groupe Boomerang. “For agencies to survive in the future, it is essential to be able to adapt; it should be in the DNA of a modern agency.