Update from the metaverse: I’m about to drive a brand new Ferrari into an island sunset. I even took a picture to prove it.
A couple of weeks ago, Ferrari dropped its new 296 GTB off the Battlebus and into Fortnite, the popular battle royale game from Epic Games. My discovery of the new Italian supercar, it’s third PHEV, was pure chance. It’s part of what makes the game fun (and addictive). You never know when you’ll find a larger than life easter egg that adds new depth to an already immersive world.
But, Ferrari’s presence on the island of Fortnite is more than a gimmicky joy ride. Instead, one brand’s test drive of the metaverse offers valuable lessons for digital marketing leaders. So, what benefits do brands enjoy when they enter virtual worlds? A couple of thoughts from my gamer chair.
Deeper Brand Engagement
In the metaverse, players work by themselves or together to reach goals or complete objectives. Intuitive on-screen cues or haptics guide player interactions with each other and/or other in-game objects, like vehicles, tools, and weapons.
In-game objects, like the Ferrari, also come with additional experience layers. How the object can be used, how scarce the object is, and how the object can be customized are other dimensions people have to consider as they navigate a virtual space. All of this has to do with game mechanics. This is the set of rules game designers create to govern the way the game is developed and played, and which help people focus on what’s in front of them. They enhance learning and memory. Understanding these rules can help reinforce brand positioning and attributes.
The rules that govern the Ferraris in Fortnite are clear. Utility: check. This car goes faster than any other vehicle on the island. Scarcity: check. This car can only be found in certain locations and only appears in limited volumes in each match. You either stumble upon them or you have to seek them out. Customization: no, but…You can’t customize the car’s look. It’s a Ferrari red or bust. There’s a good reason for this though. This is a strategic decision that, taken together with vehicle performance (high) and availability (low), reinforces a brand image and experience tied to precision manufacturing and exclusivity, as well as a distinct aesthetic that plays to brand heritage.
Gartner clients, read What Opportunities Do Gamers and Gaming Culture Create for Your Brand? (subscription required).
New Brand Distribution and Sales Channels
The metaverse offers incredible new ways to go to market. Forbes has called this the “direct to avatar” economy. It makes sense for Star Wars and other entertainment franchises (Stranger Things, Marvel, the NFL). The same goes for musicians, like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, whose 2020 and 2021 tours were hampered by Covid-19. But what about a brand like Ferrari?
My take: it works. Cars in games certainly aren’t new. However, brand-name makes and models in non-racing games are more rare. That’s not what stands out here though. Against the backdrop of current events, this reads like a hedge against the current supply chain disruption that all auto makers are facing as global microchip supply remains on ice. In a world where new vehicle production has slowed and new product launches have been delayed, delivering virtual vehicles, or in this case branded virtual t-shirts, might be more attractive than delivering no vehicles at all. This could be a sly test-and-learn experiment to see how efficiently digital distribution channels can be used to market and sell infinitely scalable products at a very low cost.
Increased Brand Control
For some of our clients, controlling the presence of counterfeit and gray market items on e-commerce marketplaces is a very big deal. The retail industry analysts I work with know well why Nike made the decision to pull its products from Amazon. The company wanted to limit its exposure to the risks associated with unlicensed and unauthorized brand sales. Nike also had ambitious DTC plans, too.
In the metaverse, in-game item shops and stores can help marketing leaders manage this challenge. In order to make it to these virtual storefronts, brand products go through a tighter QA and QC process. They’re shipping code, after all. What’s more, other individuals and third parties do not have the ability to upload user generated content or items, severely limiting the presence of counterfeit and gray market products in game stores. This preserves and protects brand equity.
Gartner clients, read How to Sell on Marketplaces and Direct Channels (subscription required).
Increased Brand Reach
Finally, the Ferrari x Fortnite partnership seems to align well to the company’s intended shift in brand licensing strategy. With a stated goal of expanding its presence in attractive and growing lifestyle categories, like gaming, the brand’s big jump into the metaverse reveals a selective bet on where they’ll have to go to reach future customer segments. For a generation of teens (and adults) raised on cooperative and connected game play, joining the party in the metaverse might be one of the easiest ways to stand out.