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Unilever and the metaverse: navigating the new virtual world


Our brands are beginning to explore the metaverse – a virtual realm where real-world limits don’t apply, but real-world representation absolutely must. Here’s how we’ve started…

Avatars getting married in the metaverse. Unilever’s Closeup launched the City Hall of Love to celebrate love in all forms.

The metaverse is still being defined, both literally and figuratively. Yet its potential to unleash the next wave of digital disruption is increasing, with real-life benefits already emerging from early-adopting users and companies.

McKinsey’s latest report, ‘Value Creation in the Metaverse’, estimates the market impact of the metaverse to be between $2 trillion and $2.6 trillion on e-commerce by 2030, $144–$206 billion on the advertising market and $108–$125 billion on the gaming market.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes in the metaverse so much that he changed the name of his business to reflect it. And it’s no wonder he’s enthused about what this emerging virtual world has to offer.

The CEO of what’s now known as Meta describes the next iteration of the internet as the closest thing to teleportation. “The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence – like you are right there with another person in another place,” he explains.

“You’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine. Get together with friends and family. Work, learn, play, shop, create – as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.”

So what does this mean for Unilever?

While it’s still early days for Web3, this is not the first time new opportunities, behaviours and economies will be driven by the evolution of the internet. There is opportunity ahead and with that comes even greater responsibility.

“As we begin to create and invest in the next environment where people spend their time, and their money, we need to be clear – among all the hype – on what we are building and what we need to prevent to make sure people don’t have an experience that is riddled with scams,” says Conny Braams, Chief Digital and Commercial Officer at Unilever.

In the past year, some of our brands have begun to explore the metaverse through partnerships, gaming and experiences, while surfacing important topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion, handwashing hygiene and sustainability.

And behind the scenes, we’re working to ensure we play a part in making this evolving arena representative, inclusive and safe for everyone who uses it.

Robust governance around issues such as data privacy, safety, equity, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and ethics needs to be established and we’re using our scale and global profile to help set some future-fit foundations for our business and beyond.

Shaping governance behind the scenes: introducing the Web3 Collective

Emily O’Brien and Willem Dinger are the programme directors of Unilever’s Web3 Collective, a cross-functional group of subject-matter experts representing areas such as marketing, finance, legal, media, procurement and licensing. Supported by colleagues from our brands, categories and markets, as well as agency partners, they’re helping Unilever to navigate this new world.

We’re currently on the cusp of a seismic shift: the biggest change to the digital landscape, and culture, since the dawn of social media in the early 2000s.

Emily O'Brien, Programme Director, Unilever Web3 Collective

“We’re currently on the cusp of a seismic shift: the biggest change to the digital landscape, and culture, since the dawn of social media in the early 2000s with Web2,” Emily says. “We know our consumers are already immersing themselves in these spaces and spending more of their time with virtual experiences that enable them to explore their passions, participate in cultural events and engage with like-minded communities.

“This is a great opportunity for brands, but they must offer genuine utility to consumers and not just jump on the bandwagon. We’re shaping our approach in Unilever to ensure our brands show up authentically in the metaverse, and that people feel safe and valued in our spaces.”

Willem adds: “We have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to influence the industry and lead from the front. As such, we have also established a future-fit learning and upskilling programme, designed to educate, inspire and support innovation across all of our Unilever teams around the world.’’

“Things are changing fast but one thing we’re certain about is that the new virtual landscape must be more equitable than the internet – and indeed the physical world – is today. It must be more representative and more inclusive for everyone, from the avatars we can build to the attitudes we embody and experiences we enjoy. And it must be sustainable. From our work in this space so far, it’s clear that just as purpose connects with people in the real world, it matters in the metaverse too.”

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Here's how four of our brands are putting their purpose into practice in the metaverse

  1. Rexona hosts the world’s first metaverse marathon

    Avatars – some with adaptive limbs and wheelchairs – joining the Degree Metathon virtual marathon

    Our Rexona deodorant brand, also known as Degree and Sure, is on a mission to give everyone the confidence to move more. In 2021 the brand announced the world’s first adaptive deodorant designed for people with disabilities and launched programmes to equip young people with the confidence and opportunity to move, however they want. In April 2022, it extended its work into the virtual world too.

    Rexona partnered with popular metaverse platform Decentraland to host the Degree Metathon. The route took in 26.2 miles of the platform’s most spectacular scenery, complete with accessible architecture to reflect a more inclusive landscape.

    The first-ever adaptive wearables were introduced, including wheelchairs and running blades, to offer greater representation for people with disabilities and enable participants to create avatars representative of their unique identities.

    Kathryn Swallow, Global Brand Vice President of Degree, said at the launch: “We hope the Degree Metathon will spark conversation on why representation matters — in both the metaverse and the physical world — and its power in challenging societal norms. We’re excited about our partnership with Decentraland and about the potential to influence the virtual world as it’s being built and more widely adopted by consumers.”

  2. Getting Closeup and personal in Decentraland

    Two avatars holding hands in the Closeup metaverse

    Many couples are still denied the right to marry the person they love. But in the metaverse, anything is possible – and Closeup is using the power of Web 3.0 to help couples express and recognise their love.

    The oral care brand has long championed love of all kinds and in March 2022, it launched the Closeup City Hall of Love in Decentraland.

    It’s a completely inclusive environment where users can mint an NFT marriage certificate, immortalise their love on the blockchain, and celebrate with friends and family.

    “Closeup has always been a challenger and a trend setter. Our purpose is deeply meaningful for the people we serve and very relevant in the ongoing conversation around diversity and inclusion,” says Gaurav Datta, the brand’s Global Vice President.

    “With the City Hall of Love in the metaverse, we are excited to add another tangible way in which people can experience our purpose using the blockchain technology to break the stereotypes, many couples still face,” he adds.

  3. Magnum’s museum in the metaverse

    A graphic advertising Magnum’s Pleasure Museum in the metaverse

    In June 2022, Magnum invited delegates at the MET AMS metaverse festival in Amsterdam to visit a virtual exhibition. Hosted in Decentraland, the Magnum Pleasure Museum showcased original artwork from Magnum’s collaborations with painters, designers and sculptors.

    Guests enjoyed the gallery, and had the chance to order a Magnum from a vending machine in the metaverse – getting a glimpse of how ice creams might be ordered in the future. Simulating an evolution of an existing partnership between Unilever and Deliveroo, the ice cream was then delivered to them at the end of their experience, bringing the virtual world into reality – and giving users a taste of ultra-futuristic food shopping.

    “You can do a lot in the metaverse, but our purpose is about bringing people pleasure and you can’t taste an ice cream via virtual reality – at least not yet!” says Marketing Manager Matteo Trichilo.

    “Through our Ice Cream Now business, we’re bringing people ice creams on-demand. We’ve done it through gaming with great success. This was a unique way to trial it in a new, emerging space and inspire other brands and industry leaders.”

    “For Magnum, the metaverse enables innovative creativity and new consumer interactions,” adds Federico Russo, Global eCommerce Lead at Magnum.

    “Our first step into the metaverse combines the purpose of Magnum pleasure, showing the brand’s rich history of art collaborations, with the consumer journey of the future, ending with a Magnum ice cream in real life.”

  4. Sunsilk’s safe space for girl gamers on Roblox

    Sunsilk’s mission is to open up possibilities for girls everywhere, and with gaming a clear passion point for young women in Generation Z, entering the metaverse offers the brand the perfect way to connect with key audiences where they play.

    Unilever’s first foray into the virtual world of Roblox, Sunsilk City, is a space where girls can feel included, engage with a real-life role model, and learn about Sunsilk’s range of training programmes for real-world skills. There’s also a range of mini games, where users can design creative hairstyles for their avatars and even blast away negativity with a magic hairdryer.

    “We know that gaming is a growing passion for girls around the world, and yet in many games women are faced with the same outdated gender stereotypes that they face in day-to-day life,” says Barbara Scala, Global Brand Director at Sunsilk.

    “At Sunsilk, we’re dedicated to empowering girls around the world to follow their own paths when it comes to their future, and so we’re hoping that Sunsilk City will help broaden representation for girls, while also inspiring and educating them on the many different ways they can reach for their dreams.”

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