Experience Radar 24: Top Trends From SXSW 2022, Tequila Comes To The Metaverse, And Netflix Fuels Bridgerton Buzz With Live Events

At The WXO, we want to connect the dots across the Experience Economy and across the globe – so each week, we’ll be bringing you our round-up of the experiential stories that we think reveal something interesting, relevant or transferrable about the Experience Economy.

Welcome to Experience Radar 24 where we’re sipping on tequila in the metaverse’s first distillery, cuddling an AR cat in the Petaverse, and learning how happiness can be a workplace superpower.

1. Licence To Distil: Drinking In The Metaverse

Drinking just went digital, as news reaches us that Tequila titan Jose Cuervo will open the metaverse’s first distillery inside 3D virtual world Decentraland this summer. Serving as a social hub for adults, the distillery will be a permanent fixture in the metaverse, hosting virtual experiences and tequila education courses. It will also serve as a platform to promote limited edition products. The brand has collaborated with digital experience experts and designers to bring the metadistillery to life, including agency partners Ache and Tangible.

Food and drink experience designers Bompas & Parr will create the aesthetic and consumer experience in the distillery, while M2 Studio will build the virtual space in Decentraland and programme the user experience. “The opportunity to create a distillery in the boundary-less metaverse, without the constraints of real life is a first-of-its-kind for Bompas & Parr and the world,” said Bompas & Parr co-founder, Harry Parr. “Together with Jose Cuervo, we’re bringing the poly-sensory experience of the real world into the limitless world of Decentraland.”

2. Mega Bites: The Rise Of Metaverse Dining

Healthy Map, Fortnite x Carrefour

While food and the metaverse don’t seem like the most obvious of unions, a growing number of big brands are hungry for a slice of the action in the digital realm. First came luxury seafood hub Flyfish Club, touting itself as the world’s first NFT-back restaurant, which is slated to open its doors in Manhattan this year. Now the likes of McDonald’s and Panera Bread are filing for virtual goods trademarks like it’s going out of fashion. Panera is hoping to trademark the ‘Paneraverse’ in order to open the first bakery in the digital realm.

French hypermarket chain Carrefour is also in on the act, hooking up with Fortnite to create a game called Healthy Map, where players have to eat healthily in a virtual Carrefour store to recoup points and give their characters a health boost. Meanwhile, Burger King has been harnessing the power of QR codes to unlock digital collectibles and bonus NFTs, and the Bored Breakfast Club has launched an NFT-backed, direct-to-consumer coffee subscription business. Over in the real world, we’ve heard whisperings that the group behind Batman-themed Soho restaurant Park Row is working on a Game of Thrones-themed restaurant, so brace yourself for hearty meat stews and pigeon pies.

3. Snap Snaps Up NextMind In AR Push

NextMind, US

LA-based social media firm Snap has acquired mind-controlled headband maker NextMind for an undisclosed sum. As reported by Tech Crunch, the Paris-based startup is known for its self-titled controller, which uses brain signals to move images on a PC interface. “NextMind has joined Snap to help drive long-term AR research efforts within Snap Lab,” the company said in a blog post. “Spectacles are an evolving, iterative R&D project, and the latest generation is designed to support developers as they explore the technical bounds of augmented reality.”

According to Tech Crunch, NextMind, which was founded in 2017 by a team of neuroscientists, will be integrated into Snap’s hardware research wing ­– Snap Lab. Elements of NextMind technology will likely make their way into future Snap products, including cameras and AR glasses. “This technology monitors neural activity to understand your intent when interacting with a computing interface, allowing you to push a virtual button simply by focusing on it. It doesn’t ‘read’ thoughts or send any signals towards the brain,” a spokesperson for Snap said.

4. Netflix And Quill: Building The Bridgerton Buzz

Bridgerton Secret Cinema, Netflix

Without the dashing Duke of Hastings to get hearts racing, Netflix is going big on events and merchandise to generate a buzz around the launch of Bridgerton’s second series, which recently hit small screens the globe over. Hosting an array of lavish balls, pop-up shops, a Secret Cinema shindig and even a cosmetics line is part of Netflix’s plan “to amplify the kind of water-cooler buzz that has been elusive for streaming shows,” according to The New York Times.

Ladies and gents can don their best Regency togs and head to The Queen’s Ball experience in Chicago, LA, Montreal and Washington to find out who will be named the diamond of the season, while Secret Cinema is putting on a series of society soirées hosted by Lady Whistledown in a Wembley ballroom, dubbed by The Guardian as, “an innovative fusion of film and live action”. This isn’t the first time Netflix has dabbled in events and merch, having released Squid Game tracksuits and a host of Stranger Things events to ramp up interest in the series.

5. Paws For Thought: The Petaverse Is Coming

Petaverse Network

We’re all familiar with the metaverse, but are you ready for the petaverse? Lee Cummings, creative director of Petaverse Network, is convinced that virtual pets – or digital twins of our real-life pets – will play an important role in our futures. “I don’t see an AR wearables future without pets. I see people changing their virtual pets to match their outfits and moods. Pets have a positive effect on mental wellbeing, so why not augmented pets to make the world a better place?” Cummings suggests. In March Cardiff-based Tiny Rebel Games raised US$7m to build the Petaverse Network.

The ‘Petaverse’ goes way beyond previous attempts at digital companions, like Tamagotchis (remember those) and Nintendogs. Cummings envisions a world where the ownership of virtual pets is passed down through generations. He’s hard at work bringing the Petaverse to life through the power of Web3 and blockchain technology. His first litter is a mobile AR experience of a virtual cat with memories stored in real-time, created in collaboration with 3D development platform Unity. The goal is to evolve it into a VR experience and for virtual pets to be free to migrate across all devices and blockchains.

6. The Top Trends From SXSW 2022

Second Life virtual space

Back as an IRL event in Austin, Texas, for the first time since 2019, there were a lot of trend takeaways from this year’s South By SouthWest festival, which shines a light on the latest developments in the film, tech and music industries. As reported by Wunderman Thompson, among the key talking points during this year’s SXSW was the need to build a better metaverse in order to ensure it’s a safe, open and inclusive space. “We should treat virtual spaces as public commons – keep them fair and open,” said Second Life founder, Philip Rosedale, who stressed the need to build bridges to link the myriad islands that exist in the virtual realm.

Another hot topic during the festival was the future of the fast-growing NFT sector and how NFTs can be put to good use. Their power lies in their ability to offer status symbols in digital spaces, though Amy Webb, founder of The Future Today Institute, pointed out the risk of a growing saturation of the NFT market putting a dampener on their value. Talk of how avatars are likely to evolve also sparked debate during the event. Most speakers agreed with Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, that there’s room for more than one type of avatar in our lives, and that we’ll change the way they look according to the social context.

7. Hidden Worlds Takes Diners On A Deep Dive

Impactainment by Hidden Worlds Entertainment at Refresh Miami

If you’re based in Miami and are a fan of the ocean then this immersive dining experience is right up your reef. Impactainment guru Daniel Hettwer, CEO of Hidden Worlds, is launching the company’s first installation, which is set to run or four weeks from 20 May. The intimate, 32-seater dining experience takes guests on a deep dive into the ocean to reveal the secrets of its quiet depths. Using large-scale projection mapping, a light show, immersive sound, actor engagement and physical artworks, everything – including the tables – comes to life.

“Everything we do is based on extensive scientific research enabling us to assess the emotional response of our guests and the resulting impact on awareness and engagement in nature conservation. No entertainment group is going further to promote planet stewardship,” says Hettwer. Billed as “the world’s first impactainment attraction”, those interested in attending can sign up to waiting list here, as only a limited number of tickets are going on sale. 

8. Happiness Is A Workplace Superpower

Happy Not Perfect

The health benefits of a happy existence have long been extolled, and now it appears that happiness can be used as a superpower in the workplace. A recent large-scale study carried out by The MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found that wellbeing predicts outstanding job performance. The research project, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, followed a million American army soldiers for five years. At the beginning of the study the soldiers were asked to rate their wellbeing and optimism. It then tracked which soldiers went on to receive awards based on their job performance during high stakes missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study found that four times as many awards were earned by the initially happiest soldiers, compared with those who were unhappiest initially. This gap held when researchers accounted for rank, gender, race and education. In fact, happiness, and to a lesser extent, optimism, were better predictors of awards success than any demographic factor examined in the study. Not only do happiness and optimism matter to employee performance, they predict how well employees will do, highlighting the competitive advantage employee happiness offers businesses, which can be achieved through flexible working, fair pay, supportive management and giving your employees a sense of purpose.