Dec 14, 2021 - Economy

Companies race toward metaverse

A graphic of a hamburger next to a person holding a shoe.

Screenshots: Amber Vittoria for Applebee's; @RTFKTstudios

Companies are rushing to build for a metaverse — even as consumers are still trying to understand the concept.

Driving the news: Nike just acquired RTFKT, a developer of digital goods, including virtual sneakers and NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Meanwhile, Applebee’s is launching a new NFT every Monday this month, following White Castle’s move into crypto.

Why it matters: Virtual and mixed environments are expected to upend businesses the way the internet did, industry watchers say.

  • The way they evolve “has the potential to disrupt almost everything in human life,” analysts at Jefferies wrote, per Business Insider.

Be smart: The metaverse concept has been around for decades. Several different kinds already exist — think Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, Decentraland and The Sandbox.

While Facebook’s pivot to Meta has increased media attention, huge brands from Gucci to Taco Bell have been experimenting with digital product launches all year. 

  • At Nike, the bet is that people will want to buy digital goods for their digital personas
  • For Applebee’s foray, the sale of an NFT is an example of how the real and digital worlds can be bridged.

What they’re saying: Companies are speeding to the finish line because “there's the first-mover advantage for the buzz … signaling to a very valuable audience that you're a brand that gets it,” says Robert Davis, head of innovation at Ogilvy. 

  • The other part of the rush: inflation. It's already getting incredibly expensive to lock down market share on things like virtual real estate.

What to watch: Adoption is still low. Less than 20% of the U.S. population will have used virtual reality at least once per month this year, according to eMarketer.

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