This month: Virtual influencer takeover—the good and the ugly.
The top 5 metaverse activations you need to know about right now
This virtual influencer activation did not go as planned. Earlier this month, Capitol Music Group—which runs Capitol Records—signed a virtual rapper named FN Meka. But the deal quickly earned backlash from the public as well as advocacy groups, with nonprofit Industry Blackout claiming the avatar embodies “gross stereotypes, appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyrics.”
Meka is a Black avatar with face tattoos, green braids and 10 million followers on TikTok. While the avatar is voiced by a real person, its lyrics, melody and overall sound are created by artificial intelligence. The project is backed by next-gen music company Factory New. The character’s backstory, which included an image of Meka being beaten by a police officer, was also derided by the public.
Merely a few weeks after the initial announcement, Capitol decided to scrap the deal and released a public apology. The original press release has also been deleted. Despite virtual influencers showing promise amid the burgeoning metaverse, FN Meka’s story demonstrates the fine line between producing realness and creating a mockery of it. Creators and companies should keep this in mind when developing their own digital personas.
No. 4: Patrón hosts pop-up in Decentraland
Tequila brand Patrón opened its first metaverse experience this month in Decentraland, in which it hosted a summer pop-up themed around tequila cocktails. At the center of the activation were a series of quests wherein visitors needed to find ingredients for the cocktails hidden in three regions: Jazz Club, Flamingos and Metaverse Festival. Upon completion, visitors were entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a real-life trip to Mexican beachtown Punta Mita.
Previously, Patrón dropped an NFT around its Chairman Reserve product, which was offered through NFT marketplace BlockBar. There were more NFTs as part of its metaverse activation; visitors who took part in the quests had the opportunity to win Patrón-themed NFT wearables, which they can presumably sport on their avatars in the platform. The Punta Mita grand prize also came with its own special metaverse wearable.
No. 3: iHeartMedia launches music and gaming space in Fortnite
IHeartMedia has officially launched iHeartLand, a music and gaming space the media company has been teasing for months. The experience will live in Fortnite and already has plans to host 20 events in the music and podcasting space over the next year. The first event will be a concert by singer-songwriter Charlie Puth on Sept. 9, after which Puth will host an interactive game for fans.
The primary venue in iHeartLand will be State Farm Park, where most programming will take place. A series of minigames will also be accessible in the world, including opportunities to unlock competitions with the artists themselves. Guests also can visit iHeart Headquarters, where they can engage with a map of the world, a broadcast recording studio and structures that belong inside the company’s real-life headquarters in New York.
Fortnite has been a popular destination for virtual concerts, beginning with a 10-minute show by Travis Scott in the early days of the pandemic that attracted millions of users. Artists from Ariana Grande to BTS have since hosted their own experiences on the platform.
Like many brands, Bulgari wants to enter the metaverse, but its vision sounds a bit different. As opposed to building a space within a platform like Roblox or Decentraland, the fashion house plans to open a proprietary world, where it maintains full control and ownership.
This obviously clashes with one of the metaverse’s most important tenets, namely, interoperability, or the capacity to move freely with one’s assets between spaces. For a metaverse world to be interoperable, a user must own their assets. Bulgari, however, doesn’t see its contradictory plan as a problem, but rather as a work in progress.
“Interoperability is a long way [away], so now the best thing we can do is to set the tone with our community, start talking the language and learn how to work in a digitalized world,” Massimo Paloni, chief operations and innovation officer at Bulgari, recently told Ad Age.
There is yet to be a release date for Bulgari’s world, but Paloni said fans can expect more news by the first quarter of 2023. Until then, all we know is that the “Bulgariverse” will be Rome-inspired, offer guests a range of immersive experiences and allow them to shop for and discover the brand’s growing catalog of digital items.
No. 1: Pacsun partners with Miquela
In a virtual influencer tie-up done right, Pacsun this month struck a deal with Miquela, an avatar who has become one of the most well-known digital personas on the internet since being created by Brud (now owned by Dapper Labs) in 2016. Miquela (formerly Lil Miquela) boasts 3 million followers on Instagram, has partnered with brands like Calvin Klein and Prada and has been pictured with celebrities from Diplo to Bella Hadid.
Despite her fame, Miquela has recently been lying low, which makes her partnership with Pacsun a revival of sorts. Virtual influencers aren’t exactly a new technology, but as interest in the metaverse continues to grow, brands are testing avatars to be the tastemakers of the virtual world. Choosing the right persona can make or break the activation (ahem, Capitol Music Group).
With Pacsun, Miquela will help amplify social content for back-to-school and holiday campaigns. The retailer, which has previously dropped NFTs and activated on Roblox, intends to lean more heavily in the metaverse and virtual influencer space in the fourth quarter.