Not many know that the term Metaverse was coined by science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his novel “Snow Crash” in 1992. Who would have thought that it would become a reality someday? Over the years, Metaverse started taking shape with Metaverse platforms like Roblox, Decentraland and Sandbox.
Cut to 2021, it was only with Facebook’s rebranding as Meta, that created enough hype around Metaverse and spiked the search of the term on Google.
According to a research by Bloomberg, the metaverse will become a nearly $800 billion market opportunity by 2024. Abroad, brands like Gucci, Ferrari, Adidas, Dominos, Nike have already started experimenting with the Metaverse world, the market of Metaverse is still at its nascent stage in India.
Several Indian publishers and brands have already dabbled their feet in the waters of NFT’s (Non-fungible tokens), there is still time for brands and Metaverse to see the light of the day.
Although in a single-use case of brands in India experimenting with Metaverse, on February 5, Abhijeet and Sansrati tied the knot and became India’s first couple to get married on a 3D Metaverse, the wedding took place on Yug Metaverse (made in India metaverse platform). ITC Fabelle and Matrimony.com were also part of the wedding. The association of the brands with the wedding was facilitated by the media agency Wavemaker India. The digital avatars of the couple had their ceremony hosted on a scenic beachside venue where the guests also joined in via their digital avatars.
Now when the internet is already abuzz with Metaverse, Indian brands don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. There are a lot of conversations among C-suites at companies over what magic or problems metaverse holds for them and whether they should even be a part of it. In fact, for brands to even think about how to make the most of it, and start with their Metaverse journey is quite daunting.
Divided into three-part series, the first part delves into the evolution of Metaverse and how Indian brands are preparing themselves for the Metaverse age. The second part which will be published on February 10, 2022, will be about the challenges and opportunities Metaverse holds for the Indian brands. The third story would be about the challenges brands have to navigate through in the age of Metaverse.
To begin with, we must first understand how Metaverse came into existence and what constitutes it?
For example, a person goes to a mall to buy clothes, he/she touches, feels and checks out the fitting of the clothes before buying. At the mall, the person gets to the ‘experience’ of buying clothes. If the same person has to purchase clothes on an e-commerce platform, he/she gets the ‘convenience’ of buying clothes while sitting at home. Like this, the mall gives the experience and the e-commerce platform gives the convenience in purchasing clothes. Metaverse is right in between, where a person can sit at home and get the experience, and also roam around in a mall as an Avatar. As an Avatar on Metaverse, a person can speak to the salesman and the people in the store.
Krishnan Sundararajan who claims to have developed India's first Metaverse gamified app Loka, added, “Although Metaverse doesn’t give the experience that real-world shopping can, and also not the convenience that e-Commerce can, it is the only thing that can give both at once.”
To simply explain, Metaverse is a digital experience on the internet that is immersive, three-dimensional and virtual, and not happening in the physical world.
Jai Prakash, Co-founder and CEO, VRXtream (The virtual events platform that recently forayed into metaverse of events equipped with AR and VR technologies), said, “Metaverse offers the experience to play, work, connect or buy in the virtual world. It can help brands build interactive spaces virtually, that can be far more immersive than the real world.”
Sundararajan of Loka explained that Metaverse constitutes three aspects:
1. The Metaverse platforms like Roblox, Sandbox and Decentraland and Fortnite.
2. The entry devices to the above-mentioned platforms. These entry devices help people experience the Metaverse platforms. For example, mobile phones, VR Glasses, Console, PC.
He added, “While VR is the best way to experience Metaverse, maximum people experience it through PC and not even mobile. Very few people use VR glasses as it is costly and has no purpose other than having fun.”
3. Services - financial like cryptocurrency, asset-bases services like NFT and branding services.
Another important aspect to understand about Metaverse is that it is an offshoot of the Web 3.0 philosophy. And before we jump on to Web 3.0 directly, we must understand Web 1.0 and 2.0 and what gave rise to Web 3.0.
Web 1.0 or read-only web is the era (1990–2000) where the role of a user is limited to reading the information provided by the content producers without a two-way communication. For example, a static website.
Web 2.0 or Social Web is the era (2000–now) that includes interaction between web users and sites. For example, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc.
Web 3.0 is the evolution of how users are able to control and own their online content, digital assets and online identities through blockchain technology. In the Metaverse, the implementation of decentralisation is prioritised. People can create their own Avatars, buy NFTs, use cryptocurrency, all spurted from the blockchain and without sharing data with any central authority. Web 3.0 is the ideal ecosystem for the Metaverse to thrive.
Web 3.0 harnesses blockchain to “decentralise” management of user information with the big tech giants and reduce their control making it more democratic.
A technology expert, who did not want to the named, explained the benefit of Web 3.0 in a layman’s language and said, “This means that the power of data lies with the consumer and not necessarily with any central entity. Web 3.0 platforms are driven in a decentralised manner, which means there is not just one entity or CEO owning it but a community of people owning it.”
He also pointed out that Facebook realised the aftereffects of decentralised internet and how it can lose power over the consumers’ data, it rebranded itself as “Meta” and will be hiring 10,000 people to work on developing the Metaverse.
Some digital experts argue that it’s just an act by the company to present itself as an ally of users concerned with data privacy, while others say that it is Facebook’s attempt at bringing Metaverse to the mainstage and creating jobs.
The conversations have begun
Currently, the market of Metaverse might be small in India, but the potential for growth is exponential. Certain reports floating on the internet suggests that more than five lakh Indian users have shown interest in NFTs and metaverse projects in November, 2021. The same report also mentioned that India has been ranked fifth only behind the US, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines in terms of interest in metaverse projects.
Even Meta’s chief Mark Zuckerberg said in a virtual conference in December 2021 that India’s contribution to the Metaverse will be quite significant to its growth. Be it in FOMO (Fear of missing out), or otherwise but many brands want to be the first-movers in the world of Metaverse in India.
Prashant Sharma, Co-founder, Plutoverse, the Avatar technology company (the latest entrant into the Indian Metaverse sector is currently building a metaverse of homegrown characters in India), said that sitting on the side-line does not seem to be an option for the brands. “There has been a lot of buzz about the Metaverse post ‘Meta’ announcement, especially in the Indian market. Brands and agencies understand that it is likely the future of how humans play, socialise, transact, earn and more. There is a FOMO. Brands and agencies know the print marketing trend in the 90s and suddenly in 2007-08 social media changed the landscape of advertising and marketing and nobody wants to miss the bus this time. Obviously, they have doubts like how to enter the space, commercial, technical and creative aspects involved in it,” he said.
To set the context, it’s important to mention that Metaverse is already a reality and a few leading brands in the categories of FMCG, fashion, OTT, auto and consumer durables with large marketing innovation budgets are already in talks with their agency partners on this front. (These brands have requested anonymity at this point of time).
“We are having conversations around NFT and Metaverse with youth-oriented brands who want to reach out to Gen Z. Such brands want to know how can they be part of this conversation while it’s still new and have the early-mover advantage,” said Akshay Gurnani, Co-Founder and CEO, Schbang.
With a handful of brands experimenting with Metaverse currently, at the moment, most of the agencies are ensuring that brands understand what Metaverse is and how can they go about it.
Gurnani said, “The clients are curious about Metaverse, but first they have to educate themselves about it. So many of them still think that Meta is related to Facebook rebranding. Not many understand that is it the larger immersive ecosystem built by companies like Decentraland, Roblox and Sandbox, which are allowing people to come into an immersive experience where they can interact with other people. Right now, we are explaining to clients the meaning of Metaverse.”
Vishal Jacob, Chief Digital Officer, Wavemaker India, said that it's very early stages for the Indian brands in the Metaverse as the opportunities and rules of engagement on it are still being defined. He said that the agency has set up a team to help brands navigate the opportunities of engaging with consumers in the Metaverse.
He said that most of the conversations can be bucketed under four key areas:
1. Clients are keen to understand the rate of adoption. While there is massive hype around some of these conversations, there is also scepticism on the potential reach that a brand can garner. Therefore, mapping efforts to rewards becomes very critical.
2. Another area clients are keen to explore is the potential opportunities to engage consumers on the metaverse. Essentially each client is trying to solve a marketing problem (consideration, loyalty etc.) and they are keen to understand how the metaverse could solve that.
3. Some clients are keen to understand how to bridge the virtual and real world in experiential ways and if their products can play an extended role in the metaverse. For instance, a retail client would be keen to understand how they can create merchandise for avatars as an extension of their current offerings in their retail stores
4. Some conversations revolve around the risks involved, especially around NFTs and transactions in the metaverse which may involve crypto assets/currencies.”
Zoo Media, the homegrown media network of seven agency brands: FoxyMoron, Doyen Oink, Pollen, The Rabbit Hole, Mammoth Media, Noesis.Tech and Phosphene- is currently running metaverse strategy workshops at its end, which includes educating brand stakeholders on the ecosystem, what others are doing and what the future looks like and then working with them on setting in place a roadmap of pilot activations to start their journey in this new field.
Siddharth Bhansali, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Noesis.Tech, said that the brands are interested to know how they can use Metaverse for “Experiential and social product/service/event launches, rich, social brand experiences, Live brand-sponsored events and activities taking place in the metaverse, building and scaling digital communities via NFTs and exploration of new revenue streams via NFTs and metaverse experiences.”
To conclude, professionals in the Indian A&M industry need to unleash the power of creativity and use Metaverse to their advantage to create experiences for the consumers at any given point in time in their buying cycle.