This year: Branded worlds, themed festivals and a controversial project.
Top 5 metaverse activations of 2022
No. 5: iHeartMedia’s “iHeartLand”
Among the many branded worlds created in Roblox in 2022, iHeartMedia’s “iHeartLand” is arguably the most expansive. The virtual space, opened in September, is anchored by a stadium that will host 10 concerts and 10 podcasts over the first year and even has its own sponsor in State Farm. Elsewhere, players can run their own radio stations, earn in-game rewards and exchange them for “iHeartBucks.” Tech corporation Intel also sponsors a venue called “House of Wonder,” where players can exchange “iHeartBucks” for power-ups that elevate the performance of their avatars.
The jury is still out on whether platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite can even be considered the metaverse, but there’s also no denying that consumers far prefer them over blockchain-based worlds. With this in mind, iHeartMedia has built an activation that caters to all different interests, while establishing a sense of realness that an ideal metaverse will supposedly enable.
“This is not a short-term project for us,” Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, told Ad Age in September. “I think actually that’s where other folks in the metaverse have fallen down a little bit, with a one-and-done stunt, where the theater goes dark after one event in the metaverse.”
In celebration of Pride Month (June), The Sandbox devoted a takeover of its platform to brands and organizations promoting equality and representation of all identities. Dubbed “Belonging Week,” the effort was highlighted by three experiences on separate parcels of virtual real estate.
“The Valley of Belonging” was a game highlighting cultural experiences by underrepresented communities, with non-player characters (NPCs) in the form of drag queens and avatars in wheelchairs. The game also featured an NFT collection from L’Oréal and innovation hub People of Crypto Lab. The other two experiences were a safe space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community called “Metapride Land” and a museum sponsored by NFT brand World of Women that displayed diverse Web3 artwork.
“Belonging Week” was a concrete taste of how inclusivity could soar in metaverse spaces. Of course, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but The Sandbox showed that virtual worlds can actually be built with equity from the start, as opposed to the inadequate retrofitting we see in the real world.
No. 3: Steak-umm’s “Meataversity”
While legitimate, the metaverse is also a pretty ridiculous concept, so it deserves a few equally ridiculous experiences. Enter Steak-umm’s “Meataversity,” an activation on Decentraland that resembled a college focused on fighting disinformation online. The school, sadly, was not accredited, but players who completed made-up coursework could still receive an NFT diploma, albeit fake.
Steak-umm went all out for the effort, building the campus with a cafeteria, bookstore and lecture hall showing educational videos on topics like AI deep fakes and crypto wallet scams. There were also plenty of steaks at “Meataversity,” as well as an NPC of a tweed coat-wearing academic with a Steak-umm box for a head.
Misinformation is a serious problem that is likely to infiltrate the metaverse, yet that doesn’t mean educating people on the subject needs to be boring. Steak-umm struck this balance by infusing humor with helpful materials, and an overall goofiness that might just have compelled users to give the experience the old college try.
Fashion has so far been the most active category of traditional brands to activate metaverse spaces, and efforts came to a head in March for Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week. The four-day festival impressively mirrored a real-life fashion week, with runway shows, pop-ups and panels, art installations and musical performances.
Brands were a-plenty at MVFW, with appearances from Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Fred Segal and more. They set up shop in a dedicated fashion district called Boson Portal, where they sold digital wearables in the form of NFTs as well as physical versions—both purchasable using cryptocurrency. The vending site was made to resemble Paris’ famous Avenue Montaigne, a destination for the biggest names in luxury fashion.
Clothing is key to identity, and identity is key to the metaverse, so it makes sense that retailers have been some of the first brands to jump into virtual spaces. But we’re still very much in a testing phase, which makes an experience like MVFW quite significant. Will brands show up? Will consumers? Not much data on the activation has been disclosed by Decentraland, but it saw enough success to warrant a sequel, which the platform recently announced will be held next spring.
No. 1: McRTFKT’s
The top metaverse activation of the year was a glaringly obvious infringement of copyright. But that’s what made it so beautiful. McRTFKT’s, a portmanteau of McDonald’s and Nike-owned Web3 company RTFKT, emerged seemingly out of nowhere, without press materials or painstakingly scheduled announcements. That’s because neither McDonald’s nor RTFKT had anything to do with it.
Instead, Tyler Cohen, an unaffiliated creative director, designed the experience as “the metaverse’s first QSR virtual franchise.” No food was to be served, only NFTs inspired by McDonald’s items, which were to be minted for free via a novel process mirroring ordering through a drive-thru. The restaurant also intended to demonstrate to brands how to more effectively show up in Web3, as well as the creative interests of Web3 enthusiasts.
“There is such an underwhelming amount of really bad activations within this quote-unquote metaverse,” Cohen told Ad Age in August. “These are established brands—this [McRTFKT’s] is how they can make their entry.”
The restaurant didn’t last long. McRTFKT’s NFTs were delisted from OpenSea in early September, and the website is now a “protected page.” And despite Cohen getting the idea for the restaurant from an RTFKT NFT he owned, RTFKT did not end up officially defending the project.
However, McRTFTK’s painfully short life was not for nothing, for it showed how the builders of Web3 are engineering new ways to combine IP, value and engagement. It’s also a warning for marketers: Consumers in Web3 want to participate in your brand, but if you force the rigidity of Web2 onto Web3 projects, do not expect to be welcomed by the community.
Like heroes in real life, the legend of McRTFKT’s was cemented by its premature demise. Not all is lost, though, for Cohen is now planning a new direction to take the restaurant … And we'll be watching.