12 marketing execs leading the metaverse charge – AdAge.com

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NFTs, digital fashion and virtual concerts, oh my! The metaverse is the Oz of 2021 marketing, a magical new frontier with endless possibilities. As a wicked pandemic has forced the shift to virtual, brands have seized exciting new possibilities in digital advertising and audience engagement—even if the concept still seems like a technicolor dream to many.
As brands look to navigate the metaverse, here’s a look at the executives leading Madison Avenue down the virtual yellow brick road.
Prior to stepping into the role of chief marketing officer for American Eagle, Craig Brommers had stints as a lead marketer at outfitters Speedo, Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, as well as smoke brand Juul. Since taking the marketing lead at American Eagle, Brommers has leapt headfirst into the metaverse.
To complement its spring 2021 line of jeans, American Eagle partnered with Snapchat to launch an augmented reality filter that allowed users to preview and purchase the denim using their phone camera. In the summer, the youth clothier further digitized with a fashion line for Bitmoji, the avatar emoticon app. And it debuted its first line of NFTs in early November, with a fashion forward twist. The tokens, which sold for only $1, could be redeemed for a physical patch to sew onto American Eagle’s denim. Brommers said the first “drop” sold within 30 minutes, the second within three minutes and the third in just 90 seconds. 
“Gen Z continues to evolve the ways in which they shop and interact with brands, and to stay connected with this digitally-native generation, we continuously evolve by being first to introduce innovative, virtually-led initiatives that are authentic to AE,” Brommers said in an email. 
For holiday, American Eagle is continuing to lean into augmented reality functionality on Snap with a holiday catalog-style lens and the recent debut of the latest version of its shopping portal on the platform, Brommers said. 
Elizabeth Campbell has been a McDonald’s marketing maven for nearly twenty years. She currently heads the fast food chain’s social media, partnerships and multicultural marketing departments as senior director of cultural engagement.
Read: The top 5 best brand NFTs you need to know about right now
Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, McDonald’s teamed with popular gaming organization FaZe Clan for “Friendsgaming.” The promotional event included custom McDonald’s gaming gear, livestreams on Twitch and a DoorDash code for discounts on McDonald’s delivery.
“We start all of our work with an understanding of what our fans want, and what truths are associated with that,” Campbell previously told Ad Age of the idea behind the event. “And what we learned from them was that it’s better to have McDonald’s food when you’re having a gaming experience. And it’s better to have it delivered to you.”
McDonald’s also issued an NFT commemorating its McRib. The saucy sandwich was rendered in virtual collectible art in November, featuring the McRib surrounded by a glowing frame. 
The Crocs fandom has long been a fierce one that’s helped position the clog-maker to take advantage of the metaverse’s depths.
Heidi Cooley has been at the forefront of those efforts, joining Crocs in 2016 and becoming chief marketing officer earlier this year. Cooley’s work at Crocs includes expanding on its “Come As You Are” diversity campaign as well as championing audience engagement with the brand.
Combining the concepts of inclusion and fan-first marketing, Crocs celebrated its annual “Croctober” this year with a virtual twist. The brand’s iconic shoes were launched on Bitmoji in multiple varieties, including their decorative Jibbitz accessories, available through Snapchat.
“We have some of the most incredible fans who want to be an active part of our community and engage with us in a meaningful way,” Cooley said in a statement announcing the event in October, “and Croctober is an homage to that.”
Looking at Spencer Gordon’s resume is like pouring a glass of Budweiser: start at the bottom and fill to the top. Beginning as an intern, Gordon hopped all the way to VP of digital and even brewed the brand’s in-house creative agency draftLine.
In July, Anheuser-Busch announced a partnership with VaynerMedia as part of the agencies new NFT efforts, and this week it debuted its first line of NFTs for Budweiser. The non-fungible tokens area collection of 1,936 unique digital cans representing designs from the brand’s history. Part of what it calls the “Budverse,” owners of NFTs from the collection are promised “exclusive benefits, rewards and surprises.” The NFTs sold out in less than an hour.
In a statement, Gordon said the NFT drop “is designed to celebrate the brand’s iconic history while also moving Budweiser into the metaverse.”
Previously marketing VP at Intel and HP, Alyson Griffin carried over her tech background when she became head of marketing for State Farm in May.
In October, State Farm made a pivot into gaming with custom assets in the video game NBA2K. The activation included the game’s first branded, non-playable character in the form of Jake from State Farm, and a virtual shop for players to buy the character’s iconic red polo and khakis. The actor who portrays Jake hosted livestream game tournaments on Twitch for the event.
State Farm then entered the NFT game with… an NFT game. The phone-based, augmented reality scavenger hunt prompts users to search for digital footballs. After completing the hunt’s first level, each player earned an NFT, and had a shot at winning gift cards and other limited-edition NFTs the more they played. 
 
“We know insurance isn’t the sexiest category or top of mind,” Griffin told Ad Age in a previous interview. “We, like a lot of brands, care about that under-40 demographic. So we wanted to show up where those future customers could be.”
Since Demna Gvasalia’s appointment as creative director of Balenciaga in 2015, he has triumphed in designing viral moments for the brand—like the Balenciaga Croc. However, Gvasalia hasn’t only taken the fashion house viral, he’s taken it virtual.
In March, Balenciaga collaborated with Unreal Engine, Epic Games’ 3D software that fuels titles like Fortnite, to develop an immersive digital experience around its Fall 2021 line. Using volumetric capture to digitize the brand’s models and clothing, players could explore a futuristic world inhabited by Balenciaga’s latest designs.
In September, the fashion label returned to Epic Games to collaborate on an activation within Fornite that melded physical and digital fashion. Unique, in-game clothing and accessories that emulated the brand’s staple products could be purchased for players’ Fortnite avatars to wear, with physical items from a new Balenciaga x Fortnite line to match.
When it comes to the metaverse, no brand has quite harnessed name association like Meta, née Facebook. The world stood still in late October as the company most known for its social media platforms announced its full monty pivot into the virtual.
One of the leaders in the company’s now-legendary transition is Brian Irving, VP of marketing for Meta’s Reality Labs. Before joining Meta in 2020, Irving led marketing at an impressive list of major brands, like General Motors, General Electric, Levi Strauss, Airbnb, Google Play, Apple and Eventbrite.
He now leads the team responsible for marketing Meta’s most metaverse-y products: Meta Quest, its VR headset; Meta Portal, its line of video chat devices; Meta Horizon, its VR social platform that functions like a virtual hangout space; and Ray-Ban Stories, smart glasses made in partnership with Ray-Ban that can do everything from take photos to post directly to social media.
“We get to innovate a whole new way of marketing that helps us get closer to that feeling of in-person connection—just like our products do,” said Irving. “It’s really exciting to be part of a team that gets to introduce these experiences to people, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what will be possible in the metaverse.”
Tracee Larocca has been on Taco Bell’s brand team for over two decades overseeing some of its most iconic innovations, like the “Live Más” rebrand and the Doritos Locos Tacos. 
Larocca can also add her role as trailblazer in the marketing NFT craze to her LinkedIn because Taco Bell was one of the first major brands to bite deep into the digital product this March. Inspiring countless imitators, the line sold for exponentially more than their starting bids and were later listed for resale at even higher price tags, some over $180,000.
Another early brand metaverse entrant was Wendy’s. Between its irreverent Twitter account and gonzo marketing activations, the fast food brand earned a reputation for connecting with younger consumers, but claims a spot in the virtual marketing hall of fame for its efforts in gaming.
As early as 2019, Wendy’s mascot began appearing in video games with its award-winning Fortnite activation. Since then, Wendy’s has established its own gaming universe, with characters in Animal Crossing, Street Fighter, MarioKart and Minecraft. The restaurant chain implemented branded levels in Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Smash Bros., streaming all of its gaming efforts on Twitch and ranking high on the platform as the first verified restaurant account. The brand took fan engagement even further by launching a server on the gamer-oriented messaging platform Discord in August.
“At Wendy’s, we are dialed in and meeting our fans where they are in real life—and virtually,” said Carl Loredo, Wendy’s chief marketing officer. “As a brand, we find authentic intersections where our fans are passionate like gaming, music and sports—and show up in unexpected ways.  Our work using platforms like Discord illustrates this. Within two weeks of joining the platform this past summer, Wendy’s became the biggest brand online with 52,000 members. Since launching our account, we’ve continued to connect with on a deeper level with the gaming community to build excitement for new product launches in our restaurants.”
Loredo is the man directing the brand’s marketing joystick, crowned Wendy’s CMO in 2019 after nearly four years as VP of brand marketing, and past jobs at the Marketing Arm, Craftmade and PepsiCo.
Dapper Labs is an NFT platform developer that merges the worlds of collectibles and gaming—and it’s one of the hottest NFT brands in business. This summer, Dapper Labs partnered with the NBA to develop NBA Top Shot, a marketplace to collect, buy, sell and trade game snapshots and clips. In September, Bloomberg reported the platform had over 1 million users and had registered over 13 million transactions.
The marketer behind this partnership was Caty Tedman, head of partnerships at Dapper Labs. Before joining Dapper Labs, Tedman worked in marketing and social for ESPN, the NHL and NFL.
At Dapper Labs, Tedman has led work with a host of sports organizations, from La Liga to the UFC, and the success of her work on NBA Top Shot has inspired a twin commission from the NFL.
VaynerMedia’s head honcho Gary Vaynerchuk never ceases blazing trails. It was no surprise that NFTs were next on his roadmap when he announced the new arm of his media empire: VaynerNFT.
In July, VaynerNFT announced its first client: Anheuser-Busch, who earlier this week debuted its first NFT collection. 
VaynerNFT launched after the brand’s co-founder developed his own NFT platform, VeeFriends, on which users can bid on tokens that grant various benefits and activities, like access to VeeCon, the first of which will be held in 2022. As of writing, NFTs on the VeeFriends homepage range in price from $38,000 to $127,000.
Roblox has become one of the quintessential metaverse companies. The sandbox-style online platform has hosted numerous marketing crossovers, allowing players opportunities to interact with their favorite brands in the virtual world.
Roblox users have experienced activations from the likes of Chipotle, Warner Bros., Gucci, Netflix, Vans and Nike. This week, the game hosted a virtual extension of the British Fashion Council’s The Fashion Awards 2021 in a digital recreation of the Royal Albert Hall. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele will even appear (in avatar form) to present a new metaverse design award—how meta is that?
At the helm of Roblox’s brand ship is Christina Wootton, VP of brand partnerships at Roblox, who’s worked in marketing and sales at Roblox for nearly eight years. She told Ad Age that her and her team’s work “involves pioneering how brands create high-quality, native experiences and build authentic connections with their fans and consumers around the world, and we’ve already partnered with some of the world’s most iconic brands.”
“As technology continues to mature and people spend more and more time online, we’re going to see the metaverse emerge as an essential marketing channel, as important as social media or television,” said Wootton. “The opportunity that the metaverse presents to brands is enormous, and I’m incredibly proud to be helping brands innovate and succeed in the metaverse through Roblox.”
In this article:
Parker Herren is Ad Age’s TV reporter. He was previously a freelance journalist and podcaster covering pop culture and entertainment as well as a Pilates instructor and a professional dancer. His passions include cats, the “Scream” franchise and Halloween costumes.

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