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WPP and Epic Games yesterday announced a new partnership intended to help educate WPP agencies and their clients about the potential opportunities awaiting brands in the metaverse. 

The partnership includes a training program designed to teach WPP creatives and executives how to navigate Epic’s Unreal Engine virtual creation tool, in addition to a collaboration with Epic-owned kidtech company SuperAwesome to bolster WPP’s understanding of online child safety and privacy. 

As Epic Games angles to be one of the primary builders of the metaverse, it has gradually evolved its strategy around Unreal Engine: once a mere game engine, the software is now used for a multitude of tasks throughout the professional world, including modeling automobile prototypes and designing clothes. Despite this impact, detailed knowledge of Unreal Engine remains relatively rare among non-gaming-endemic brands and marketers. 

The key details

  • The non-exclusive partnership is an endorsement of the company’s game-rooted vision for the metaverse, but a WPP representative who spoke with Digiday on background said that “there is absolutely a blockchain/Web3 element [to the metaverse] as well.”
  • Training will be split into three tracks: one for creatives, one for executives and one for media strategists. Per the WPP rep, the tracks are “tailored to the specific roles that they play on a client’s business,” with creatives learning how to work directly within Unreal Engine and executives learning how to guide and advise clients through the tool’s benefits. 
  • Kieley Taylor, GroupM’s global head of partnerships, referred to GroupM’s involvement in the Epic partnership as taking the shape of “three different legs of the stool”: 
    • The SuperAwesome “curated safe space” collaboration is the most “pertinent and the one we have the most longevity with.” Clients are involved, but Taylor wouldn’t identify any due to sensitivities around children’s advertising. 
    • With Fortnite, there are “here-and-now” metaverse opportunities for GroupM brands (that she declined to identify) to develop immersive experiences into the game itself. “When we build something [for a client] in Fortnite, there is awareness of it, and it’s a successful activation for that advertiser in such a prominent title.”
    • With Unreal Engine, GroupM hopes to enable its clients to play with building assets “for purpose,” Taylor said, such as developing the types of ad specs that gaming environments require: avatars, likenesses, etc.  
  • Smaller creator studios are becoming an important part of the metaversal ecosystem, inking their own independent deals with companies to create branded experiences inside platforms such as Fortnite and Roblox. However, WPP declined to comment on its future participation in this ecosystem.
  • Though gamers are the first denizens of the metaverse — hence, WPP’s investment in in-game advertising specialist Anzu in late 2020, WPP believes that it is “an extremely high priority for a large number of clients spanning many different categories, including packaged goods, automotive, healthcare and entertainment” — not just the clients looking to reach younger audiences in gaming.

A broader push

This is not the first time Epic Games has partnered with an agency (in this case, an entire holding company) to raise awareness about the potential uses of Unreal Engine. In March, Epic announced a collaboration with the digital agency Collective and the United Kingdom’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, with the organizations jointly hosting an Unreal Engine workshop at the IPA’s headquarters in June.

The event sold out within a matter of days — evidence that brands and marketers are clamoring for the skill set that WPP and Epic hope to encourage through this partnership. “Whether people use our tools to then deploy somewhere that isn’t run on Unreal Engine, or whether they deploy them and create experiences that are distributed by us on platforms like Fortnite — we don’t mind either way,” said Rachel Stones, an Epic Games business development manager based out of the company’s Innovation Lab in London. “Our play is sort of long-term; we want to be kind of foundational as a software, as opposed to above-water.”

Not their first rodeo

The partnership represents WPP’s first foray into the metaverse at a company-wide level, but it’s not the first time a WPP agency has worked with Epic Games. Wunderman Thompson, a WPP agency, has been putting resources into its own metaverse knowledge, both through a virtual office in the metaverse platform Odyssey and its own partnership with Epic Games.

“Odyssey started off as a gaming company, then pivoted to events. They’re focused on b2b, so that combination really works for us,” said Wunderman Thompson global director and metaverse expert Emma Chiu. “And now, we’re actually introducing them to a lot of our clients after creating our own version of the metaverse.”

Wunderman Thompson’s use of a smaller platform such as Odyssey for its virtual office is evidence that the metaverse knowledge offered by WPP and Epic can be valuable for brands whether or not they are operating in Epic’s corner of the metaverse. As older internet users and non-gamers start spending more time inside virtual spaces, these skills are likely to become even more crucial with time.

“We’ve always been working on this application of real-time graphics and game engines for industry and brand use cases for a while now,” said Odyssey chief technology officer Maxime Long. “Coming into COVID, what we saw was that there was suddenly this influx of people that were trying to realize what this use of real-time graphics could be, for an office or for a brand-new use case like virtual events.”

When does the Metaverse go big-time? 

The time frame for every new innovation in media seemingly gets a bit more compressed, so how long does Taylor think the metaverse will take to evolved from nascent to mature option?

“In terms of scale, I would say it’s in a three-to-four-year timeframe,” she said. “Some of the factors at play are the fragmentation of entertainment, especially in the U.S. marketplace. And then the fact that the IAB Playfronts occurred is a really useful signal that more people are thinking critically about this place. With that comes things like measurement, third-party verification and ease of accessing inventory.”

The post The Rundown: Why WPP/Epic Games partnership signals the next level of commitment to prepping for the metaverse appeared first on Digiday.