From virtual teleportation and 3D audio to advanced avatars and genuninfluencers, “a new digital era is on the horizon as the metaverse shifts from a sci-fi concept into reality,” says Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.
In “Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2022,” the marketing agency charts a set of 100 emerging and future global trends, consumer change, and innovation patterns, synthesizing some of the core trends we’ve been reporting here at NAB Amplify.
These include the metaverse disrupting the physical world and augmented reality becoming the chosen medium for advertisers.
Let’s take a look at eight of them, drawing on the report compiled by WTI’s futurism, research and innovation unit.
Meet the Genuinfluencer
Virtual genuinfluencers — a term first coined by consumer trend forecaster WGSN — describes a CG-created influencer designed to be relatable rather than aspirational.
An example is Angie, a virtual influencer on Chinese site Douyin who has gained 300,000 followers by celebrating her “imperfections.”
Unlike other virtual influencers, whose skin has been smoothed to perfection and whose faces are perfectly symmetrical, Angie’s skin is sometimes dry or flushed, she gets acne and acne scars, her makeup creases and her teeth aren’t perfectly aligned,” says Chiu. “Instead of posing in designer clothes, she wears simple white T-shirts and athletic shorts.
This chimes with data from Wunderman Thompson that 73% of American Gen Z’ers want a brand that understands them, and 76% want a brand that is accepting of a range of identities and experiences. “Being too aspirational is repellent now,” The Guardian reported in August 2021.
READ MORE: ‘Being too aspirational is repellent now’ – the rise of the ‘genuinfluencers’ (The Guardian)
This is also filtering into the virtual realm, where brands have an opportunity to craft their avatar influencers around core values and relatability.
Virtual Venues Meet Physical Spaces
Lost Origin is a London-based test project designed to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the nascent world of immersive and interactive tech-led performance storytelling.
“Virtual reality experiences can be solipsistic. You can experience VR alone but you cannot share the experience with others,” explains Maciek Sznabel, project lead at Factory42. “The aim was to design an interactive experience that people can enjoy together and, to achieve that, we decided to mix theatrical performance with mixed reality technology.”
In another example, The Royal Shakespeare Company used Unreal Engine to present Dream, an interactive performance of live actors that brings the audience into the production for an almost game-like experience.
“Liminal spaces, which blend virtual and physical experiences, present brands with an opportunity to reinvent how physical experiences and bricks-and mortar spaces can look,” says Chiu.
As related example of this trend, in Manhattan, High Line Art and westside cultural institution The Shed collaborated to create The Looking Glass, an augmented reality installation of virtual sculptures located in the High Line park last summer.
Chiu adds, “Alongside the rise of fully virtual venues and spaces, extended reality is informing physical spaces, elevating events to limitless interactions and experiences.
Plots that develop entirely on profiles, dramas that unfold in feeds, and fictional characters who chat with their followers. Is this the next big thing in entertainment?
FourFront is “revolutionizing TV through TikTok,” Fast Company reported. FourFront, which secured $1.5m in funding last October, is a new kind of content studio. It produces scripted narratives on social media that have the look and feel of regular posts, featuring fictional characters who have their own storylines, social media pages, and interact with followers organically. As of October 2021, FourFront had 1.9 million followers and 281 million views across its characters’ TikTok accounts.
“We’re blurring the line between reality and storytelling,” FourFront cofounder Ilan Benjamin told Fast Company.
This could point to a new kind of social media-based interactive entertainment format. “Not only have we been creating this universe of characters on TikTok, we’ve also been iterating with a new interactive format,” Benjamin said. “There’s an evolution in entertainment happening from motion pictures, where audiences can engage in what we call living pictures with characters who feel alive, who live in our world, who are on social media, and react in real time to audience engagements. That fourth wall is completely broken.”
Invisible Universe is another startup scripting entertainment specifically for social media. CEO Tricia Biggio, a former SVP of unscripted television at MGM, calls it “the Pixar of the internet.”
With the mission of creating what the company calls “the next 100-year animated franchise,” Invisible Universe develops original animated characters on social media in partnership with celebrities, influencers and brands. It has released characters in partnership with Jennifer Aniston and Serena Williams.
Chiu concludes, “Storytelling is evolving, with emerging formats that are tailored for social media feeds. As movie theaters struggle and TV viewership declines, the entertainment industry is rethinking how it reaches and serves audiences.”
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- The Metaverse is Coming To Get You. Is That a Bad Thing?
- Does Anyone Actually Care Who Controls the Metaverse?
- Don’t Expect the Metaverse to Happen Overnight
- How Do We Make Sure the Metaverse Is Equitable?
- Neal Stephenson: Who Cares About the Metaverse When We Have Real-World Problems?
Immersive listening ushers in the next generation of audio experiences.
Apple’s new third-generation AirPods and MacBook Pro laptops will be equipped for spatial audio. Startup company Spatial is creating immersive, interactive soundscapes for public spaces, including lobbies, retail stores, offices and even hospitals. Sony introduced two new home speaker systems in 2021 with 360-degree spatial sound mapping technology for an immersive listening experience.
Companies are “fundamentally rethinking the future of work in this hybrid environment,” Spatial CEO Calin Pacurariu told Fast Company. “And they see sound as a competitive advantage.”
READ MORE: I got to hear what an office can sound like with the help of ‘sonic ambiance’ (Fast Company)
Chiu writes, “Social media platforms such as Instagram have driven a hyper-focus on visual elements over the past decade. Now, especially as digital platforms mature and engagement evolves, focus is shifting to multisensory elements — audio, in particular — for a truly immersive experience.”
Nvidia is preparing for a future where 3D avatars with conversational AI will operate in both the virtual and physical world. In a November 2021 demo, the company announced the Omniverse Avatar platform. “The dawn of intelligent virtual assistants has arrived,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO. “Omniverse Avatar combines Nvidia’s foundational graphics, simulation and AI technologies to make some of the most complex real-time applications ever created.”
Epic Games believes digital humans are the future. A year ago, Unreal Engine launched the MetaHuman Creator, which allows real-time creation of photorealistic avatars in minutes. The cloud-based app can replicate intricate details of a person’s features, from complexion and wrinkles to broken capillaries and scars.
In September 2021, California-based avatar-generating startup DNABlock raised $1.2 million in seed funding to make the metaverse more diverse and inclusive, Silicon Icarus reports. The company’s CEO, Anthony Kelani, said, “The metaverse needs to represent everyone. This needs to represent the world. And with avatars, specifically, you should be able to generate an avatar that looks like you or like someone of color.”
Next December we will see what advances James Cameron will make to his virtual playground in Avatar 2.
“In 2022, new-age avatars will not only seem hyper-realistic, but also reflect the world’s diversity,” says Chiu.
Transforming communication and collaboration is at the heart of Varjo Teleport VR. The headset, launched in October 2021 by Helsinki-based Varjo, uses a cloud platform to allow for “photorealistic virtual teleportation.”
Chiu thinks technologists are “opening up digital portals — making virtual teleportation a plausible reality.”
One of them is Mark Zuckerberg. “By 2030, the new generations of Oculus will allow users to teleport from one place to another without moving from their couch,” he told The Information’s 411 podcast.
Microsoft Mesh uses mixed reality (MR) to create interconnected worlds where the physical and digital come together. The idea is that people in different physical locations are able to collaborate and work in real time on the same project via holographic experiences across different devices.
“You can actually feel like you’re in the same place with someone sharing content or you can teleport from different mixed reality devices and be present with people even when you’re not physically together,” says Microsoft’s Alex Kipman.
London-based design practice Space Popular proposes an even more ambitious concept — a civic infrastructure that allows for virtual teleportation. The cofounders envisage a “threaded network of virtual textiles that our virtual selves pull aside to move between virtual environments.”
READ MORE: Space Popular proposes a “civic infrastructure for virtual teleportation” to help people navigate the metaverse (Dezeen)
Pulling this together, Chiu says, “Distance is becoming less of an obstacle. As people spend more time working, socializing and collaborating online, technology is paving the way for teleportation into a new virtual dimension that offers more intimate, close-to-reality in-person interactions.”
Creativity is increasingly informed and powered by technology, setting the stage for the next era of digital platforms and creative influence, believes WTI.
Digital tools have “activated an entirely new world” of creativity — one where “creations can transcend physical limitations,” creative technologist and digital designer Helena Dong tells the consultancy.
Seventy-two percent of gen Z and millennials in the US, UK and China believe that creativity today is dependent on technology, and 92% believe that technology opens up a whole new world of creation, according to WTI’s research conducted in July 2021.
“For generation alpha and generation Z, customization and creation are intricate parts of their gaming experience,” Keith Stuart, games editor at The Guardian, tells WTI. “For them, customization and the play element are part of the same thing — self-expression and exploration.”
IMVU describes itself as a next generation social network. It aims to facilitate emotional connections by providing shared experiences based on 3D avatars “that go beyond the traditional social media loop of posting a picture, liking, commenting, and sharing.”
The company’s CEO, Daren Tsui, tells WTI that “creativity is the new status symbol” — dethroning influence and income. When users come to its platform, “making money is not the most important thing for them. It’s about being recognized for their creations,” Tsui explains.
Chiu extrapolates this to mean that in the digital world of the near future “people are not passive consumers, but creative agents crafting their self-expression and curating their virtual identity.”
Branded Virtual Worlds
Last September on Roblox, Hyundai launched its Hyundai Mobility Adventure. The space contains five “parks” where users can race, play games, learn about Hyundai’s technologies, and take part in festivals. Other brands are creating branded virtual worlds on their own platforms.
Procter & Gamble, for example, invited visitors into a virtual world where they could learn about the company’s full portfolio of products and play games; BMW launched its virtual world Joytopia to present its vision for the future of mobility alongside “festivalesque” elements including an exclusive Coldplay concert. Japanese beauty brand SK-II launched a virtual city where visitors can navigate a virtual rendering of SK-II City to shop, learn about products, and even catch a movie in the SK-II cinema.
“There’s something unique about the growth of gaming as a marketing platform,” said Grant Paterson, head of gaming and esports at Wunderman Thompson. “We talk about gaming as being the nexus of a new consumer paradigm.”
For younger generations especially, gaming is replacing advertising channels such as print and television. “A lot of the traditional ways of marketing to young people are gone forever,” says Stuart. “Gaming is where they are.”
With the in-game advertising market set to grow by $3.54 billion between 2021 and 2025, per Technavio, brands are diving headfirst into gaming with branded virtual worlds. Expect to see more branded virtual worlds as companies and marketers tap into this growing space.
Want more? In the video below, Interesting Engineering explains the differences and similarities between the omniverse and the metaverse: