This article first appeared on The Drum - 25 January 2022
In a seriously immersive metaverse, brands will need to rethink what it means to be experienced by their customers, writes Carat planning director and Twitch affiliate streamer Tess Gullis.
As the hype around the metaverse has taken the industry by storm, and the tech that propels the metaverse continues to expand, I’m urging brands to look forward, take a step back and align on their ‘Sensory Logos.’ With the growth of virtual reality (VR) and haptics, the metaverse is set to get increasingly more immersive and the veil between the real and digital is ever thinning. Brands need to rethink what it means to be experienced by their customers, and to also now think about what they ‘feel’ like.
Brand managers have spent decades sat around meeting tables deciding what they’re going to look like, justifying what their red and white logo conveys and what their accent of pink tells their customer about them. More recently, sonic logos have had their moment and almost every marketing event I attended featured a talk about the importance of auditory cues and brand recollection (lest we forget the Netflix ‘dun-dun’). While these remain ever-important, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that a sensory logo will hold equal weight in a medium where experience and immersion is king.
The rise of the metaverse shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; immersion has always been a motivation behind media, from the earliest Greco-Roman panoramas to the latest Screen-Xs, VR, gaming and 3D cinema in between.
Current technology and tech-in-development is promising consumers more immersive experiences than ever. The fact that VR hasn’t yet fully found its feet should not be a deterrent; gaming has been around since the 1970s and only in the last decade has cemented itself as the cultural powerhouse it is today. VR has the backing of the largest tech companies in the world and has been heralded as ‘the final medium.’
VR is a technology built around the idea of total uncompromising immersion, but it is not the most immersive technology we currently have. Cinema and gaming can currently immerse the viewer more pleasurably and sustainably. This is what Facebook and Google are setting out to conquer, mastering how VR can transport people to another time and place convincingly – without making them feel a bit queasy in the process. The primary concern is solving the movement problem, as currently movement within VR is difficult to achieve from one’s living room. The second concern is tricking the senses into feeling what they’re seeing. It’s the latter that is particularly interesting for advertisers.
We already have a degree of haptics in the metaverse; simple haptic devices are common within gaming controllers. PlayStation’s latest generation of controller features haptic feedback technology allowing players to feel things like the ‘slow grittiness of driving a car through mud,’ allowing for immersive tactile experiences. It’s not brand-new technology, but is an advancement from the more basic ‘rumble’ players of last-gen consoles many people will be familiar with.
To truly immerse into an environment, it’s essential to take haptics one, two or even three steps further, and this enables VR developers to really make the connection of person and place in the metaverse a seamless experience. For example, users need to be able to feel their environments, whether it’s the percussion breeze of a passing train, the spray of water from a jet ski or the squeeze of pushing into a cave – not to mention the cold or the heat of a fire. To be fully immersed they need a sensory connection to the world around them.
While this may sound too futuristic to believe, there are already products being launched that are paving the way for this sort of digital immersion such as Skinetic, a VR vest that was unveiled at CES this year. This wearable body tech is set to enhance the experience in the metaverse, allowing players to feel the environment around them – from raindrops to bullets.
The second barrier tech is seeking to overcome is realistic interaction within the digital world. The human fingertip can detect a 0.4mm difference in surface. Our hands are incredibly sensitive and play a vital role in how we interact and perceive the world. Brands such as TactGlove are developing gloves that will allow people to have realistic interactions with virtual objects, providing haptic feedback that mimics the real world. It’s through this level of tech advancement users will soon be able to shake hands with one another in their virtual meetings, or pet a cat in a video game and feel the natural resistance, force, movement and texture as they do it.
With the barriers of touch now being overcome through emerging tech, this just leaves two more senses to combat: taste and smell. You might ask me what taste and smell have to do with advertising, but I like to think of them as being used as virtual testers. Several brands already use a form of olfactory advertising; have you ever walked past a Penhaligons or a Subway? While they occupy very different corners of the market, both use smell to their advantage and pump their signature scents (one of roses, the other salami) on to the high street to entice pedestrians inside. If whizzy devs were able to create smell through headsets (though I admit I am making this sound far easier than it likely is), the result would be incredible for brands that rely on scent to communicate, and even for those who currently don’t.
Consider the innate biological reaction to seeing and then smelling a Big Mac in the metaverse – this level of connection would drastically change the way we plan for and around daily human behaviors in media.
Although it’s something that can be tricked by smell and other brain signals, I believe of all the senses taste will be the final frontier, whether through 3D printed food (which, yes, is already a thing) or something like Musk’s Neuralink. Suffice to say, I don’t think we’ll be tasting a McDonald’s advert anytime soon, but that’s not to say never. I’m sure many people would have rolled their eyes at the idea of haptic suits 20 years ago.
The metaverse is getting physical. While we still have senses left to engage, such as smell and taste, VR is quickly becoming a full-sensory experience, a real-life dream machine. Which brings us back to the importance of brands beginning to think about the way they’ll occupy the metaverse, not only visually and auditorily but physically. People are going to be able to experience a brand like never before, so it’s time for marketers to ask brands: “What do you feel like?”
Tess Gullis is a planning director at Carat, an active member of the Dentsu gaming community and a Twitch affiliated steamer.