Advertisingweek.chRoger Oberholzer, you took over as CEO of the Metaverse Academy in Zurich at the beginning of March. How did this - still relatively young - Academy come about?
Roger Oberholzer: The Metaverse Academy was founded a year ago out of the Kuble agency and provides practical skills, strategic know-how and fresh inspiration in the topics of Metaverse, Web3 and NFTs. On May 16, 2023, together with the Swiss Association of MBAs SAMBA, we will be holding the first Metaverse Leaders Summit with the main topic "How leading brands enter the metaverse".
What does the Academy offer? What can participants expect?
In our public and customized Academy programs, such as the "Metaverse Strategist" and the "Web3 Leader", leaders and professionals can get ready for the future. We are convinced that you can't just learn the Metaverse, you have to experience it. You can read a lot about it, but only experiencing it shows you the potentials and hurdles. Wherever it makes sense, our sessions take place in the Metaverse.
What does the "second leg" consist of?
The second pillar is Metaverse "VR Experiences", where marketing and innovation teams immerse themselves in the Metaverse world with our Experience Guides and gain hands-on experience. With the Experiences we are also present at industry and corporate events, where we want to inspire guests with current and fascinating applications. Although the Academy is still very young, over 4,500 people have already dived in and and over 500 innovation-hungry people have taken advantage of the learning opportunities. In addition, we are currently building the "Road to Knowledge" learning community. There is a lot to learn and we want to take Switzerland on the journey of the next digital evolution.
With the exception of a certain consulting workload, you are leaving your position at Notch and Publicis, respectively, where you spent years developing digital marketing strategies for your customers. Why do you think metaverse applications are "the next big thing"?
We already store, work, learn, play, consume content, and meet like-minded people digitally today. In the next iteration of the Internet, we are now adding digital identity, digital ownership, and immersive experiences in 3D. This is increasingly blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds.
The real world is thus supplemented by an additional layer.
From my point of view, the value proposition of the Metaverse is as follows: "You can be who you want to be - immerse yourself into infinite experiences at any time - and do everything together with likeminded from everywhere." This sounds fundamentally like something humans have always intrinsically aspired to. To break out of our own small world and become independent of our own body. Today, we are still a long way from this promise. At Publicis, however, the topic is gaining enormous momentum globally. And there are already some relevant and creative cases like the Samsung presence on Decentraland or the Non-Fungible Animals, an NFT project by colleagues in Germany for WWF.
Aren't you worried that "the metaverse" will turn out to be a mere buzzword in the end?
Discussions about Metaverse, Web3 and NFTs, as well as the underlying technologies such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and VR/AR, feel like they did about the Internet before the turn of the millennium. At times totally overrated, often undervalued, and repeatedly pronounced dead, it has transformed our society in many areas of life. Large, far-reaching technological innovations always take time. Just as the hype surrounding the renaming of Facebook to Meta created expectations that were far too high, it is also wrong to think that the Metaverse will simply disappear again.
What else does the Metaverse need to be suitable for the masses?
Various ingredients are needed: 5G and fast WiFi, simple and affordable interfaces - i.e. devices -, user-friendly tools for consumers and creators, attractive content and, above all, desirable experiences for consumers. There is still a lot to do in the interface, tools and experiences. However, progress is accelerating and there is a global community of passionate innovators, entrepreneurs and developers driving it. In addition, AI is fueling the evolution of the metaverse. When virtual experiences can no longer be laboriously created, but can be instantly built in an automated way through prompts, exciting "spaces" will emerge much more quickly. And when tech companies with large global customer reach, such as Salesforce, Shopify or Amazon, integrate new NFT and Web3 applications into their solutions, suddenly there is broad market coverage. Then there is the question of when Apple and Samsung will present new solutions. That could happen very quickly or still take time.
Where can we already see successful metaverse applications today - and where do you think they will become even more important in the future?
The global luxury and fashion industry is an absolute pioneer. Everything to do with digital identity or its presence as an avatar has already become a new business field for innovative brands. Gucci and Nike are generating sales in the two- and three-digit million range, respectively. In addition, consumer brands from various industries such as retail, FMCG and automotive are building new brand experiences or loyalty programs. Advisory processes in finance, legal and insurance are being virtualized with the help of AI. And digital twins support sales in the real estate industry. Each industry has its own individual applications.
Where do you see the greatest potential?
I see a lot of potential in the industrial metaverse. VR and AR applications with digital twins can support product development, process planning, and also training and the execution of services. Since this often involves larger investments, there are clear business cases.
What is the most common misconception that companies currently make regarding Metaverse applications?
That just watching and waiting is enough. Metaverse, NFTs and Web3 are not just another channel that can then be added to the mix. There is a different cultural understanding that requires a different mindset and necessitates new forms of communication.
Can you elaborate on that?
Today, 94 percent of access to immersive virtual worlds happens via mobile and desktop. But even there, the experience is completely different than on a 2D website or social media feed: more social, more interactive, more self-determined, more personalized, and more alive. The brand experience can thus be rethought. This does not yet work smoothly today, but in the medium term it has similarly great disruption potential as we have experienced with eCommerce and with social media. Here, too, digital-first companies have shaken up the market and turned it upside down.
So it's high time for companies to actively engage with the metaverse.
Exactly, in my opinion, brands and companies should first and foremost get to grips with the topic and gain initial experience. Breitling, Richemont, Axa, Sygnum, Siemens, Roche and PwC, for example, will be demonstrating how companies and brands deal with this in practice at the Leaders Summit in mid-May. I am very much looking forward to discussing strategies and applications that add value and keep brands dynamic and fit for the future.