As the drinks industry looks to the technology of the future to create forward-thinking marketing strategies, the metaverse is the latest buzzword with brands and retailers. Rachel Badham reports
By creating digital experiences, which can include virtual reality, the metaverse can directly connect consumers with businesses. But what exactly is this emerging form of technology?
After being coined by the author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, the term metaverse has now come to denote a digital space where users can interact with others via avatars.
Max Vedel, co-founder of metaverse creative agency Swipe Back, says: “The idea that the metaverse is a single entity is a common misconception. We’re still years away from this ideal. At the moment, there are several separate platforms offering immersive and interactive experiences, on or off chain. These include The Sandbox, Decentraland, Roblox and Fortnite. What they have in common is that they are surreal, gamified virtual worlds which allow users to enter, build avatars and interact directly with brands in ways previously not possible.”
For Matt Shirah, co-founder of BarrelX (a non-fungible tokens – or NFT – marketplace for barrel aged spirits), the question is not whether drinks brands will get involved with the metaverse, but when.
“It’s not even a question of whether or not the metaverse will offer unique or incremental benefits to brands and producers – it certainly will”, he says.
“What is still uncertain is how long it will take for these market participants to understand the web 3.0 space and how long until they feel comfortable operating in that space, which comes back to a dire need for education for this new space. We have to change preconceived notions or misconceptions about the NFT markets’ ability to create value across the board.”
Shirah also emphasises that NFTs, web 3.0 and the metaverse all fall “under the umbrella of this new technology”, which he believes can offer a more meaningful experience to consumers compared to ecommerce and physical shopping.
“This experience, and the value associated with it, is very different from walking into a bricks and mortar [store] and picking up a bottle of spirits that conveys almost no emotional or incremental value to the consumer,” he says. Wines of Germany is one of the latest drinks organisations to enter the metaverse after releasing 31 Riesling NFTs as part of July’s 31 Days of German Riesling campaign.
Director Nicky Forrest says the move into the metaverse gave them a chance to reach a new audience.
“The metaverse presents the opportunity to market in a different way, and if one day we are interacting with the metaverse on a daily basis, it will be an important way to reach consumers.”
Meanwhile, in the spirits world, Cognac house Martell is due to launch its digital world later this year in collaboration with gaming platform The Sandbox.
With information on its Cognacs and “virtual doors to the exclusive Martell château”, Martell’s metaverse world was created as part of a “wider consumer-centric strategy, which comprises both digital and real-world activities”, according to Nuria Feliu, head of digital engagement.
For Wines of Germany, ease of use was a priority when creating the NFTs, with Forrest saying that they needed to be “accessible for both wine lovers and crypto-fans alike”.
She adds: “This was not without its challenges. The range of crypto currencies available can be confusing and gas fees [a payment required for a transaction to be processed on the blockchain network] can make getting involved in the metaverse difficult and more expensive than expected for the buyer.”
In terms of challenges, Martell’s Feliu found that the design aspect of creating a digital world was vital in ensuring the brand’s metaverse offering tied together the virtual and the real. “We had to reinvent our key elements, such as the vines, vineyard and the château, to create a completely new online universe that is engaging for new users.”
Looking to the future of the metaverse and the role it will play in the drinks industry, Nicole McGraw, chief executive of NFT solutions provider Jupiter Group, thinks this digital world could be paramount in improving brand reach.
“With the metaverse, you can now bring people together in ways you can’t in the physical world,” says McGraw. “Alcohol has always been a way people can come together and now even parameters such as location can’t stop that.”
Wines of Germany’s Forrest agrees, saying that it is “important to future-proof and not to get left behind”. She continues: “What’s clear already, by the variety of ways other drinks brands are getting involved, is that there’s a place for everyone.”