Are retailers benching the metaverse for Super Bowl LVII?

Amid a challenging economic climate and a return to IRL activities, don’t expect to see brands using the term “metaverse” around Sunday’s big game.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Source: Getty Images

· 5 min read

If you’re one of those people who tunes in to the Super Bowl mostly to watch the much-anticipated ads, you probably remember last year as the (unofficial) “Crypto Bowl.”

On the retail side of things, LVI was the metaverse Super Bowl: The NFL partnered with gaming world Roblox to sell virtual jerseys, and Miller Lite built a virtual bar in Decentraland for fans to watch the game. “Metaverse” went on to become one of the most viral words of the year, with luxury brands, big box retailers, and everyone in between making moves in virtual worlds.

This year, as the retail world grapples with changing consumer behavior, spending, and perceptions, retail metaverse activations are taking a backseat at the Super Bowl. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of the game for good—they’ll just look a little different.

Clocking the action

Of course, football isn’t the only sport where retail brands are leveraging the metaverse. The LVMH-owned Swiss luxury watch brand Hublot, which has spent four years as the official timekeeper of the FIFA World Cup, unveiled a virtual stadium on Spatial in November.

The brand sees its foray into the metaverse via the Hublot Loves Football Metaverse Stadium as a way to maintain relevance, and even accessibility, with younger consumers, CEO Ricardo Guadalupe told Retail Brew.

  • “People are getting curious, and they are getting hooked into the brand through this,” Guadalupe explained.
  • Hublot’s metaverse visitors might not be the same demographic as the usual purchasers of luxury watches, but Guadalupe said the metaverse experience serves to start the conversation with those younger consumers (and soccer fans) and create a sense of desirability.

Tian Pei, head of sports partnerships at Roblox, said the intersection of sports, retail, and the metaverse is a natural one, because both sports leagues and retail brands are looking to grab the attention of younger generations.

  • “It is not enough for sports brands to rely on word-of-mouth or wait for a younger generation to tune in to televised events,” Pei said in an email to Retail Brew. “They have to go where that audience is now and engage with them on their terms.”

Richard Johnson, head of content at metaverse-focused accelerator Outlier Ventures, said sporting events have become highly competitive landscapes for brands, where standing out is both essential and challenging.

  • The 2022 Super Bowl showcased brand attempts to do just that by moving into the metaverse, he added. “And because [brands] are seeing it everywhere, they think of it as a very fertile ground where fans may already be.”
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Not so fast: Metaverse activations might have been in the works en masse a few months ago, but they’re likely to be few and far between at the Super Bowl this year, said Jeff MacDonald, social strategy director at ad agency Mekanism.

“There were a lot of decks being sent out and meetings being made several months ago, [but] then the calendar invites were deleted,” MacDonald told Retail Brew.

  • Brands were still interested in Super Bowl-adjacent metaverse activations, but pulled back due to the climate around cryptocurrency and Web3, MacDonald said.
  • Many brand metaverse projects (including those on Roblox) aren’t built on the blockchain and therefore aren’t directly connected to crypto or Web3. But brands want to prove that they can read the room, MacDonald added. “I think they took a look around and said, ‘Is this a good look?’”

It’s not just the down market: While brands might want to avoid consumers conflating “metaverse” with “cryptocurrency,” that’s not the only reason many are steering clear of virtual activations this year.

In February 2021, given the realities of the pandemic, virtual experiences got something of a boost, said Azher Ahmed, head of digital at Octagon. “The behaviors that have been built during those lean years of everybody being virtual have made it more friendly and familiar for people to engage with these things,” Ahmed told Retail Brew.

But this year, with fans back in stadiums, metaverse experiences need to go above and beyond 2022, when many people were still staying home due to the pandemic, he explained. “I view that as a challenge of the bar being higher creatively, strategically.”

Johnson said a slowdown in brand metaverse activity may actually be a net positive: “When the spotlight is on certain trends…you don’t actually end up with the most interesting executions.”

  • MacDonald predicts Super Bowl viewers will witness retailers “pivot” when it comes to this year’s metaverse activations. “The language will be different,” he explained. “I think you’ll see somebody launch on Roblox, somebody launch on Fortnite, and we’re just going to call it a ‘game.’ We’re going to call it an ‘online multiplayer experience.’ They won’t use the word ‘metaverse.’”
Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.