For New York Fashion Week last month, Puma launched an experience that is equal parts physical and digital. While the experience is hosted on a standard website, visitors can interact with the brand’s Fashion Week show as if they were there in person. Moreover, digital exhibits showcase 3D sneakers, but special NFT holders can redeem their tokens for a physical pair of shoes.
This effort, dubbed “Black Station,” is what marketers are referring to as a “phygital” experience—a portmanteau of digital and physical. Although the term dates back to 2007, when Chris Weil, CEO and chairman of ad agency Momentum Worldwide, coined it to describe a growing focus on digital advertising phygital has only become more relevant as the marketing industry navigates the rise of new concepts including the metaverse and Web3, all the while serving consumers’ appetite for real-life experiences.
Like an omnichannel strategy, phygital marketing merges activations across disparate touch points. The physical component can be anything that harkens back to the so-called “meatspace,” such as the inclusion of physical goods or out-of-home experiences. The digital aspect lives in cyberspace, and typically leverages websites, 3D modeling, AR/VR, gaming platforms or NFTs.
While brands have been especially eager as of late to experiment with digital tools, a physical-digital combo may actually be a better option than providing no physical component at all. A Harris Poll conducted in March found that most consumers worry the metaverse will make them lose touch with reality, and therefore prefer tools that harken back to the real world, such as AR/VR.
Read: Consumers' metaverse worries include lost touch with reality
For many brands, there’s also the issue of not taking too far a leap away from their traditional strategies.
"You can't just leave [physical] behind and jump into the virtual world. So how do you bridge that gap? Connect physical and digital,” said Jeremy Cohen, head of Web3 investment at Publicis Media.
Of course, phygital marketing does not need to include the metaverse at all. There exist plenty of other interfaces that incorporate digital components, many of which have been used by brands as e-commerce has become a bigger chunk of sales.
But the metaverse is proving to be the fastest growing interface for phygital activations, said Justin Banon, co-founder of blockchain-based e-commerce platform Boson Protocol.