The Drum | How Brands Are Using WebAR To Build The Real Metaverse

Niantic’s Kevin Straw, along with Tool of North America’s Dustin Callif, argue that a “real-world metaverse” is evolving around us.

Most brands think of the Metaverse as Roblox or Decentraland, and with good reason. Reporting of partnerships and activations within these spaces has been terrific, if not cursory compared to the longevity of the metaverse itself.

But there is another interpretation of the metaverse that most brands overlook; one that can be more powerful. A digital twin of our physical world (parks, streets, etc.) is ready to be activated by brands.

We are already at a tipping point today where brands can activate this digital layer using augmented reality (AR). This digital twin has been dubbed the “real-world metaverse” because it allows consumers to experience the metaverse by exploring and engaging with their real-world environment.

The unlocking power of webAR

There are two main ways people can access AR with their mobile phones: through a mobile app or through a web browser.

Through dedicated mobile apps, brands can create augmented reality campaigns tied to geolocation. For example, we can create a virtual version of Times Square so someone walking around can see augmented reality graphics mapped directly onto buildings, signs, and more using their phone’s camera.

The second path into the real-world metaverse is via webAR, which allows consumers to experience brand-created AR campaigns through their browser from anywhere in the world — no app required.

AR first made a splash in 2013 when Google Glass launched with much fanfare. As the product proved premature for the real world, the technology took a back seat.

These early efforts were all limited by the fact that an app or hardware was required. WebAR breaks this need by allowing consumers to engage with an experience through their web browser. This smooth entry point provides more access and makes it much easier to promote and use. At Niantic and Tool of North America, we’re seeing more brands using webAR to create moments at events, retail stores, and other physical locations that overlay the physical world.

With scale comes practical business applications and real metrics that can drive a brand forward. Vans used webAR this past holiday season, luring shoppers into their stores through an innovative video experience at more than 500 locations across the country. Coca-Cola launched a concert on a can in 2022 to launch its latest product, which sold out in days. Bloomingdale’s achieved a +22% conversion rate to shop and a +38% engagement rate through a 150th anniversary campaign. Khaite saw a 4x increase in shoe sales with its webAR-enabled SS21 lookbook.

Overcome the “Valley of Disillusionment”.

Examples like this are common but haven’t generated wide reach since they occur in controlled marketing campaigns. Often webAR activations are games, sampling experiences, product previews, etc. But they serve the brands that use them by returning tons of data from dwell time and click-through rate to purchase intentions and actual spend.

The Metaverse was placed in a corner to be safe. That’s to be expected. All promising new technologies will eventually reach a peak and then plunge into the valley of disillusionment. But it’s only when companies invest in making the technology more convenient that the real innovation begins – both for consumers and for the companies they work with and want to demonstrate their technological prowess. What’s coming is a more robust metaverse that turns the whole world into a playground.

The advent of hands-on innovation in the real-world metaverse is coming faster than we anticipated, thanks in large part to brands adopting the technology quietly and realizing real ROI in the process. They will primarily benefit and will be well ahead of the market when consumer interest in the Metaverse is inevitably reignited.

While it’s easy to get distracted by Generative AI’s new shiny object, don’t lose sight of the prize before you: the real-world metaverse. Just look around, at retail and event venues, as well as public places like parks and streets. The world is your oyster and now it’s up to you to find the most magical ways to bring it to life for your brand. The Metaverse is upon us – just not the Metaverse that was so hyped a year ago.

For more hot takes and cold hard looks at the burgeoning tech landscape, check out The Drum’s Deep Dive on AI to web3.