Unlike many countries in the West, China has clear government-directed policies and goals for the metaverse set out in its most recent five-year plan, with many predicting that it will have the first interconnected, functional national metaverse as a result.
It also has a government-supported national digital asset exchange to allow the purchase of digital collectibles (the term NFT is still avoided due to strict policies on the trading of online assets) without the use of banned cryptocurrency.
The mainland’s public are also positive about the prospect of a virtual landscape. A 2022 survey by Ipsos asked how people in various countries feel about the possibility of engaging with extended reality (XR) in their daily life; 78 percent of respondents from China were somewhat or very positive. This was higher than in any other country — for example, the rate in the United States was 42 percent.
How are brands mastering this arena? Here are some examples:
KFC’s gamified metaverse space
In October 2022, fast food chain KFC created its own dedicated metaverse space using an interdimensional restaurant concept. The group invited customers to join its virtual community and play mini games that involved various activities, such as making food. The project resonated so well with its audience that it only took 10 days for total impressions and interactions to surpass 2.9 billion.
Ping An Bank’s virtual influencers and educational livestreams
In January 2023, Ping An Bank hosted a livestream to share financial knowledge with its customers. The livestream was conducted by Teacher Hua, a senior investment consultant and the Executive Deputy General Manager at Ping An Bank’s head office, along with Ping An Xiao Cai Niang, an anime-style virtual character that represents the bank. The latter interacted with her fellow presenters during the livestream, which was watched by more than 210,000 people.
Ping An Bank’s “1.8 God of Wealth Festival” live broadcast used virtual humans. Photo: Ping An Bank
Aeon Mall’s AI-powered assistants
Aeon Mall in Xintang, Guangzhou and AI software provider SenseTime teamed up to create XiaoTang, a realistic AI-powered avatar that appears on screens throughout the mall to help people with directions and answer questions. XiaoTang’s precise, accurate recommendations have improved the mall’s customer experience and enhanced engagement.
Mentholatum’s digital collectibles drop
Given the ongoing ban on cryptocurrencies and stringent restriction on digital asset trading in China, companies are introducing their own take on “digital collectibles” to skirt round the regulations.
In June 2022, healthcare brand Mentholatum launched a digital collectible series featuring the nurse from the brand’s logo as a virtual ambassador. Each asset was bundled with some of the brand’s star products — capturing the attention of Gen Z. The initiative helped the brand stand out in China’s competitive market and solidified its image as a trendsetter sought after by young people despite being a 133-year-old brand.
Though not an exhaustive list, the aforementioned examples demonstrate how technologies like VR, AR, digital collectibles, virtual influencers, and the metaverse are being embraced across China like never before.