I recently read something that made my head spin. People are paying real money to ‘buy’ digital outfits: They send off a photograph of themselves in their normal, everyday clothes, and the next day they receive a digitally-altered image of them wearing the outfit they ‘bought’. This isn’t small change that they’re spending, either; costs range from around GBP30 (US$42) all the way up to GBP700 for more limited-edition items of clothing.
While the concept sounds rather bonkers, it’s very clever on a number of levels. With the pressures that consumers feel to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ on Social Media, 9% of people in the UK buy clothes to wear for Social Media photos – before returning the items. Digital alternatives circumvent this behaviour, saving a huge amount in terms of carbon emissions and water usage, not to mention preventing damage to the soil through the growth of cotton, for instance. And, it still provides consumers with the gratification they seek, to look their best in their online personas.
Gaming is another area where consumers are spending their hard-earned cash on fashion items that only exist digitally. These virtual outfits, known as ‘skins’, are used to change their avatars’ appearance in gaming worlds such as Roblox, League of Legends, Fortnite and Animal Crossing. High-fashion brands such as Gucci and Marc Jacobs are already selling designs for these platforms, with millions being spent on skins by consumers every month. In 2019, League of Legends made $1.5bn in revenue from skins, and it’s projected that spending in these online arenas will reach $50bn by 2022.
Different gaming events and themes also provide the opportunity for seasonally appropriate or limited-edition purchases. For example, last year Fortnite ran a Summer Splash event, where the game’s island was flooded and summer-themed items were available to buy, some of which were ‘limited-time modes’.
The influence of the ‘metaverse’ – best described as alternate digital realities – has only increased with COVID – as consumers haven’t been allowed to socialise in person, their avatars have been able to mix online without risk of infection. This trend could well continue to grow, even as the world opens up.
The ultimate vision for the metaverse is a world that has its own economy, jobs and shopping centres, a world that continually exists even without people being logged in. As gamers spend more time in the metaverse, there’s a strong likelihood that more money will be spent on items for their avatars. In fact, the term ‘Direct to Avatar’ could become common parlance in marketing circles.
Diageo has identified gaming as a particularly interesting field for exploration when it comes to digital marketing, as chief digital officer Ben Sutherland told Just Drinks in 2019. “It’s a worldwide audience group with its own social nuances,” explained Sutherland. “From a socialising perspective, it’s certainly something we’re looking at quite closely. The audience is very much skewed older as well. When you talk about gaming, you might think about a younger age group when actually it’s 20-plus. In terms of safety around advertising to underage consumers, it’s really quite robust.”
So, what does this mean for the beverage industry? There’s a whole world of possibility out there for brand owners with a bit of imagination. Plenty of brands have created VR tours of their distilleries and brand homes, which is all well and good, albeit a bit dry.
Your company could have its own virtual brand ambassador, ‘travelling’ around the metaverse to spread the gospel of your products in tastings and other special events. ‘Alternative Reality’ bars could provide out-of-this-world digital cocktail and drinking experiences that feature your drinks brand – paying to experience such impressive bibulous designs could be a way of boosting an avatar’s cool cache.
You could host a digital product launch in the metaverse, where a limited number of avatars can attend. Or, perhaps they could get jobs making your product in your brewery or winery. Product ‘trialling’ is also worth exploration – beauty brands are already doing this, so why can’t drinks?
These are just a handful of simple ideas that spring to mind with two minutes of consideration – the possibilities are endless, given the unlimited nature of the internet. As McKinsey identified in a recent study of ‘Gen Z’ consumers, this generation sees “consumption as access rather than possession, consumption as an expression of individual identity, and consumption as a matter of ethical concern”.
The metaverse, gaming and digital products tick all of these boxes – it’s not what you can hold in your hands after you’ve spent your money, it’s what the consumer – or their avatar – has had access to, or has been seen ‘wearing’ or ‘consuming’ that’s what counts in this new world. Early-adopter brands may get a jump on the competition when it comes to making a name in this alternate reality.
Hold onto your pixelated hats!