Plucky, adventurous MINI is an automotive brand that's never been afraid of being a bit different - in fact, it's embraced it. And so this week at Cannes Lions it revealed that it would be the first auto brand to take the plunge and join Meta's Horizon Worlds metaverse platform.
Their immersive MINIVerse experience is a creative collaboration between Pereira O’Dell, Creative Shop and Meta Horizon Worlds creators John Burnap, Jordan Marcotte and Malcolm Langille. It's a physics-defying go-kart experience that sees the distinctive cars take on twists, turns and loop-the-loops.
According to Sebastian Beuchel, this handbrake turn into the metaverse was driven by a desire to translate the fun of the MINI brand into the virtual sphere, staying true to all that makes the car beloved by its fans while also experimenting and playing with it.
"When we started that idea, I think we were all thrilled about the concept of taking what I think, undoubtedly, is the most fun-to-drive car in this universe to the metaverse. But the aesthetic was not about just replicating what you could experience in the real world. It was adding to that. Still, what you will experience as the MINIVerse builds on that is what defines MINI's popularity in this universe right?"
As Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Global Business Group at Meta, says, spaces like the metaverse offer brands the chance to express themselves in heightened new ways. “What they’ve created is something you couldn’t do in the real world… Here we are in Cannes this week, which is all about creativity, it’s all about innovation and I promise you the only thing that limits us today is the power of our own imagination.”
And to underscore how new all of this is, Facebook’s Horizon Worlds metaverse platform is just six months old and the MINIVerse has taken just a few months to build - with creatives who have taught themselves the skills needed. Creatively, it’s a new frontier for platform, agency and client alike - and Nicola emphasises that what we’re still seeing is the very early stages of the metaverse and it will likely be another five to 10 years before we see it reach its true potential.
For Nicky Bell, Meta’s VP of Creative Shop, that means a really exciting space for talent. “I think the other thing that we’re really keenly focused on and excited about is this whole new crop of creators coming through. Horizon Worlds is six months old, so we started building these two or three months ago. No one’s been taught how to build in these worlds; it’s new technology,” she says.
In Sebastian's view, what makes the space particularly interesting is the potential for community building - and Meta has been emphasising its view of the metaverse as a social space above all else.
"MINI's a love brand, it's supported by millions of fans, and with the metaverse and the experience in Horizon Worlds, we’ve created a new social space for the community to come together," he says.
Nicola agrees that the social potential of the metaverse for communities like the MINI fanbase is quite radical. “It’s about changing the ways we come together - and you’ll know the feeling of presence that you have is extraordinary.”
This isn't to say that MINI's marketing team see the MINIVerse as a major driver of engagement and sales, in the short term at least. For now, Horizon Worlds is limited to those with access to Meta Quest 2 Headsets (although it will soon launch on desktop and mobile, it is optimised for that immersive VR experience), and so MINI sees this exercise as one of brand building, positioning MINI at the front of the pack, in the minds of fans, when it comes to being forward-looking and embracing new technologies.
The way we look at the experience at this point in time is clearly to drive awareness for the brand, drive brand reputation, and also engage with target audiences that we potentially wouldn't reach in another space. So I would say it clearly is focused on upper funnel KPIs. We're image-building, bringing across the message that MINI is a forerunner in that space."
But MINI's exploration of the metaverse is much broader and deeper than one marketing execution. MINI - and the wider BMW Group - has been delving into all sorts of use cases across the business.
"Today, we mainly speak about the use case focusing on media and marketing and brand promotion aspects, but there's extensive use cases and also enterprise applications that you could look at. The BMW Group, of which MINI is a part, takes a very holistic focus and holistic perspective of the metaverse and its respective technologies, meaning AR and VR. We see use cases along the entire value chain: use cases within research and development; within the design process of our products; within the planning of our factory layout; customer consultation; maintenance; and even financial services. Also, our HR division is looking into it as a means to engage with the teams' qualification training - potentially even recruitment."
Where the metaverse is still a relatively unproven space for brands, it's also one that its advocates say holds boundless potential. Sceptical CFOs holding the marketing budget purse strings might be harder to convince. But for Sebastian, the bigger risk is the slam on the brakes and refusal to engage.
"I think there is no point in waiting, right? The whole thing is evolving, and I'd rather contribute to the ways in which it can take shape, and really by that, learning how to improve as we move forward. And as we said, there's an aspect to that of positioning your brand as a forerunner. We're part of that. We're maybe a little bit faster and quicker and more receptive to those kinds of technologies than other competitive brands - and that, I think, is an argument that the CFO should buy."