TBWA\HAKUHODO Metaverse Project: Exploring new style of internal communication

11 July 2023

TBWA\HAKUHODO Metaverse Project: Exploring new style of internal communication

While hybrid work (work from home and office depending on the needs of members) has taken root at TBWA\HAKUHDO, there have been challenges in internal communication especially around team building from being physically apart from each other. “The TH Metaverse project” kicked off in 2022 as a new way of updating internal communication and this April, as the highlight of the project TBWA\HAKUHODO launched “THE ESCAPE” that allows evacuation drills in a metaverse office.

We talked to three project members: Kaname Aratame, Creative Director (DisLab/.exp), Kenshiro Suzuki, Creative Director (DisLab/.exp), and Shinpei Nikai, Director of Talentism Promotion Division (HR) about the stories behind the TH Metaverse Project – adopting new technology to take on the challenges of a new way of working and team building.

Exploring Metaverse for new style of communication

Q. How did the idea of using “Metaverse” to explore new way of communication come about?

Nikai: We believe that we can only realize TBWA\HAKUHODO’s mission of “creating meaningful social change with creativity” through the wisdom and passion of our pirates, and it’s our duty to help pirates to continue to grow and develop their talents within the company. It’s about providing an environment to make our members don’t feel afraid of stepping outside of their comfort zone as well as enhancing their own area of expertise. We call this concept “Talentism”. Usually the uniqueness of ideas of our creative outputs gets the spotlight but everyday communication behind the scenes that allows each individual to fully demonstrate his/her talents is also as important as the creativity itself. In this sense, the starting point of this project was to challenge the use of the metaverse as a new method of communication to create something unique in the future.

Q. What kind of members were involved in the metaverse project?

Suzuki: Originally, Aratame and I launched a team called “.exp”, a team that designs new brand experiences using digital technology, within TBWA\HAKUHODO’s creative division called DisLab. When Nikai who launched the project approached me about this idea, I thought it would be an exciting challenge for the “.exp” team. Judging from our ambition of making full use of metaverse technology, we knew it would require a large number of people. So we invited members who were familiar with digital technology in DisLab or Experiential Marketing Division (EMD), or members of our DISCO team for video production.

TBWA\HAKUHODO Metaverse Project: Exploring new style of internal communication

Aratame: We wanted to develop something that would require using the VR headset for an immersive experience. So we had our in-house IT team to guide us with the operation and management of the equipment, as well as with knowledge of leading-edge technology. As a result, members across departments were involved in this project.

Q. Before the launch of “THE ESCAPE,” were there any other internal initiatives the team carried out?

Aratame: During the ideation and brainstorming period there were many exciting ideas, but from the rather early stages, the theme of “disaster” was brought up as one of the main ideas that could make full use of metaverse technology. In order to materialize this in the later stage, we first designed measures to better understand the technology as well as improve communication by utilizing existing VR applications.

Suzuki: “THE ESCAPE” was our final goal, but it would take a long time to create it. Since we already had headsets ready, we started other initiatives to familiarize the employees with Metaverse. First, we thought it would be best to have the top leaders experience both the possibilities and the challenges of Metaverse so we held a management meeting on Metaverse. Then we held “Avatar CEO Meeting,” in which some employees used the avatar that looks like our CEO to join the management meetings on Metaverse to share their honest opinions about the company and openly discuss with the leaders.

A management meeting held in Metaverse / Avatar CEO Meeting

A management meeting held in Metaverse / Avatar CEO Meeting

Nikai: I think it was great that our leaders were open and cooperative in experiencing the new technology of Metaverse. I felt Metaverse space has its unique potential to create communication that transcends generations and positions because of its flat and casual characteristics.

Q. You started off by making the leaders experience it first. How did you provide the chance for other members of the company to get used to Metaverse?

Pirates experiencing Metaverse in VR Room

Pirates experiencing Metaverse in VR Room

Suzuki: We recorded each of the Metaverse management meetings and shared the video with all employees to let people know what we are doing and what we are aiming for with this project. Also we set up a “VR Room” within the office where anyone who is interested can try out the technology using headsets.

Nikai: At the time, the metaverse was becoming a hot topic as a technology, but not all members fully believed in the potential of the metaverse. One of the features of the Metaverse is the extension of the senses and physicality. We knew that communication itself could be extended by taking advantage of this, but after all, there are many things that can be understood only through experience. Several measures were also taken to promote awareness of the project to encourage people to experience the potential of the technology.

Team building and disaster awareness drill that can only be done on Metaverse

TBWA\HAKUHODO Metaverse Project: Exploring new style of internal communication

Q. Is there anything that you noticed while developing and implementing some other initiatives that you were able to apply to the development of THE ESCAPE?

Suzuki: I realized that even if you go through all the troubles and create a Metaverse office, people won’t bother to use it unless they have a strong motive. Simply saying, Metaverse with the mere function of “You can communicate here,” will result in just a degraded version of a physical office. Another thing I realized was that it is hard to actually use the heavy headset and have a one or plus hours meeting on the Metaverse. We thought it would be a good idea to create something that could be experienced in a short time and only in the Metaverse – such as “breaking down the office”.

Nikai: Some members even had to take anti-nausea pills during the process of developing THE ESCAPE. If you just want to have a meeting, you can use online conferencing tools without any physical burden, and I thought we needed to strike a balance between what we can do only on the metaverse and what we can do realistically.

Q. Were there any points you paid more attention to while developing THE ESCAPE?

Suzuki: Since the goal of THE ESCAPE was to create a communication tool that helps team building, it was important to make it something that can be used as a team. With members who usually work together, this would strengthen bonds, and with people from other departments with whom you have never talked before, it can be an opportunity for new collaborations to emerge. In addition, this gave employees who joined during the pandemic and had few opportunities to visit the office, a chance to get used to the office.

Comparison of the actual office (left) and the recreated office in THE ESCAPE (right)

Comparison of the actual office (left) and the recreated office in THE ESCAPE (right)

Aratame: The metaverse makes it possible to decorate the office as we wish but with the theme of “disaster prevention,” pursuing realism was particularly important. For this reason, we asked an outside subcontractor to create a faithful rendition based on office drawings and 3D photographs of the company. For example, we paid attention to the details, such as trophies displayed in the office that fell to the floor, so that the viewer could believe that it actually happened to them. Operability was also a matter of trial and error, but in the end, we made it a single-button operation so that anyone can experience it intuitively.

Nikai: While playing “THE ESCAPE” you have to go get the emergency items inside the metaverse office to successfully finish the game, and we made sure the place where the items on the metaverse are is exactly the same as the actual place in the real office. We hoped that by playing THE ESCAPE our employees could understand the disaster prevention drill from knowing where the emergency items are placed and how they can communicate with colleagues to cooperate when faced with disasters.

Q. THE ESCAPE was launched in April. How was the reaction since the launch?

Pirates experiencing the VR headsets in various locations

Pirates experiencing the VR headsets in various locations

Nikai: Some of the members who have tried out THE ESCAPE were the early adopters of new technologies and their feedback was that THE ESCAPE is more realistic than other metaverse content they had experienced before. I was happy to see some people come to experience THE ESCAPE during the lunch break. One of them said, “I want to try again next time we welcome new members to our team,” which is the exact objective that we were aiming for when developing this.

Suzuki: The response from the leaders was also very positive. I was glad to see them laughing when they looked at each other as avatars at the management meeting on Metaverse and genuinely enjoying the experience.

Aratame: Through “THE ESCAPE,” we were able to get new insights from a disaster management perspective. For example if emergency items are placed together in one location, there may be a danger of large numbers of people rushing to the same place during the emergency, so it would be better to distribute the emergency goods in a dispersed manner. This was something that I was able to notice thanks to the metaverse, as it may have been difficult to notice at formal disaster drills.

“Experiential” communication using new technologies

Q. What did you feel are the advantages of Metaverse? Are there any future plans you would like to try out for internal use or for external development using Metaverse?

Nikai: I think the most important thing is that communication can take place in a more natural and intimate way than in online meetings. This year we are bringing back the acceptance of interns as TBWA\HAKUHODO and I am wondering if we could use this as part of our efforts to help them get to know the company more. Of course, we would also like to actively use it as an educational activity to raise employees’ awareness of disaster prevention.

Suzuki: The good thing about using Metaverse is that it is easy to hear even if multiple people speak at once. This is very different from online meeting tools, and I feel that by taking advantage of this characteristic, we can create new and effective communication measures. I think it could be used as a tool for in-house training programs, and we are looking into opportunities of developing a product by combining training programs and metaverse experience for other companies.

Aratame: In the metaverse, even if it is virtual we can feel the presence of people in the same space, so I would like to continue to challenge initiatives that can be used as “experiences” that go beyond meetings. Also with the theme of “disaster prevention”, we believe that we can create educational content that involves “hands-on” experiences that imagine emergencies at public facilities and public transportation facilities, such as concert halls or train stations, about which I want to keep exploring the opportunities.

Leaders interacting on Metaverse management meeting

Leaders interacting on Metaverse management meeting

Q. Finally, what new technologies are you paying attention to recently, to “create meaningful change in our society”?

Suzuki: I should say, of course “AI”. It would be great if we can create some exciting initiatives using AI for internal use in the near future.

Nikai: I believe that the Metaverse also has a potential for further possibilities by combining it with augmented reality (AR). I would like to challenge the development of something that can be experienced even more easily by adopting technologies.

Aratame: I want to continue to look into the Metaverse as a platform. New technologies such as AI are still largely unknown, but I would like to think about how we can use such technologies to make the world a better place. I would also like to create “meaningful change” by daring to present the work to the world as a three-dimensional object, rather than completing it on the screen.

TBWA\HAKUHODO will continue to proactively make full use of new technologies to create Disruptive ideas and changes. Stay tuned for the next STORIES episode!

Communication Team (koho@tbwahakuhodo.co.jp)