I consider Nike’s advertising best in class.
There are very few brands capable of capturing the public mood in their advertising as successfully as the Nike brand. Tapping into sub-cultures, market-specific zeitgeist and culturally significant moments with authenticity, has allowed the brand to earn its place in the hearts and minds of generations of consumers. This is largely down to the decades-long relationship with Wieden+Kennedy—their creative agency of record, and an outfit of truly exceptional thinkers in advertising.
Nike doesn’t sell athletic goods. As a brand, the narrative they’ve formulated centres on our capabilities as humans; performance, overcoming odds, building resilience, being the best you can, celebrating achievement. The combination of emotive messaging and imagery that’s consistently motivational, bold, and unapologetic melds perfectly with the essence of the brand.
A simple call to action we’ve come to know as ‘Just Do It’.
Another company pushing the industry forward by reimagining its advertising strategy to take ownership of a new category of its own making is Epic Games. Their wildly successful battle royal game Fortnite sees players fight to the end to become the last man standing. Fortnite has gone beyond the realms of your average MMO game, tapping into trends happening within popular music, fashion culture, and the film industry among others.
Having the advantage of regularly being able to refresh gameplay with different chapters and seasons, the Epic team has used the game’s backdrop to do seasonal tie-ins with the latest entertainment releases (e.g. The Mandelorian, Spiderman). We’ve seen bespoke music events hosted by DJ Marshmello, Travis Scott, and more recently Arianna Grande, to millions of online fans who can’t seem to get enough. Thanks to virtual merchandise tie-ins, the brands behind these collabs live-on within the game in the form of themed skins and accessories, long after events are over.
This sort of blank canvas, immersive advertising that seamlessly goes from real to virtual and back again needs deep pockets. For now, at least. In-game advertising isn’t ground-breaking, but Epic has invented a way to legitimize it to the fanbase by making it interactive and frankly, fun. It’s an exciting leap forward in the realm of what’s possible for brands who want to engage players on a more meaningful level, without disruption to gameplay.
So you can understand why I’m excited about a partnership between these two companies.
Last month, we witnessed ‘Airphoria’ Nike’s crossover event that took place within Epic’s Fortnite game. Described as an ‘immersive gaming experience innovating to serve the future of sports fandom’, Fortnite players were exposed to Air Max —one of Nike’s flagship footwear brands—within a custom-built virtual universe. A Nike metaverse if you will.
The most compelling aspect of the partnership was the fact that you had multiple means for how the crossover transcended across virtual and physical worlds. Players who connected their Epic accounts (Web2) with their dotswoosh account (Web3) got to own digital assets in their locker. They could then go on a ‘sneaker hunt’ within the custom island of Airphoria, with its Nike-branded immersive experiences, ending back at the ‘real’ Nike store to purchase merchandise from the limited edition Airphoria-inspired collection. And while I’m not the target audience to fanboy over, the experience was novel and fully on-brand for how Nike does advertising best.
There is no current consensus over the definition of what a metaverse is, whether there will be a single metaverse—i.e. ‘The Metaverse’—or a series of metaverses that are decentralised, interoperable, and operated with community-based standards and protocols under the auspices of a consortium of operators. If we take the construct as coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snowcrash, the metaverse is intended to be a shared and always-on virtual world where users can interact and engage in immersive, user-generated experiences as avatars. The trading of digital assets within a self-realized economy is at the heart of the experience, as is the notion of interaction for social and creation purposes.
One could argue that the inadvertent hijacking-through-association of Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, hasn’t done the metaverse any favours. The fall from grace of NFT trading (a staple of Web3 economies), to the one-off use cases from every brand out there including Gucci, Roblox, and Disney have been widely reported on in the press. The fact remains however that our inability to join-up all the disparate parts into something meaningful has not helped evolve adoption.
Perhaps this is by design. Without technology ubiquity, accessibility at scale, and user demand, we need to exist in a mode where experimentation continues, maintaining one foot firmly planted on each side of the realm. In a 2021 op-ed published on their blog, Niantic (the home of Pokémon GO) CEO Jaoh Hanke called for the creation of a ‘real world metaverse’:
“For us, it starts with a technology that connects the real world with the digital one. You could call it the ‘real world metaverse’ to distinguish it from the virtual videogame version. We are just going to experience it as reality made better: one infused with data, information, services, and interactive creations”
In the context of Nike (x) Epic Games, this makes a lot of sense. But as a future marketing construct, I’m still super-excited about the possibilities we haven’t even thought about just yet. I think this is only the beginning of how brands will start to think about and eventually adapt to Web3. Instead of one massive leap, we’ll witness a more gradual transition as we redefine what experiential brand engagement, commerce, and fandom means for massive communal experiences within a metaverse.
Web3 technologies may not have reached mass consumption readiness, but the foundations are being laid for cross-device, cross app ubiquity. We see it in persistent login credentials being used across disparate applications (e.g. dotswoosh and Epic accounts, Instagram and Threads accounts, Google and YouTube, etc.) in a way that mimics what we expect to see happening in a metaverse, where your identity follows you around. I see continued momentum gains in the utility value of Web3 technologies, used in transactional ownership verification, asset authentication, IP rights, and bridging the divide across online digital personas.
It’s happening incrementally, and the rest is only a matter of time.
main images and trademark credits: Epic Games and Nike.