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16 Листопад, 2023

Interview: COO FFFACE.ME Polina Klekovkina for SKVOT MAG

The COO of FFFACE.ME studio talks about semi-digital clothing, social AR, the uncanny valley, and content you can't help but share.


When the metaverse concept was first introduced, it was envisioned as an improved version of the physical world: a place where we would constantly wear VR headsets, only removing them to eat and sleep. In practice, things happened quite differently. People don’t want to completely cut ties with reality, so instead of total immersion in the virtual world, they prefer Augmented Reality (AR). Even within the metaverse, they continue to boost offline activities.

In researching how a brand can integrate virtual and physical elements in its activations, we talked to Polina Klekovkina. Polina is the Chief Operating Officer of FFFACE.ME, a product studio focused on XR and Web3 technologies — the FFFACE.ME team collaborated with many brands, including Prada, Mugler, Maybelline New York, L’Oreal, Meta, and Bershka. In the interview with Skvot, Polina discussed these cases and more. We delved into where the Web3 space is heading today and covered:

— Why people are buying semi-digital products
— What is needed for the metaverse to really take off

— How to create viral content
— What to explore in the uncanny valley
— Why the metaverse is both old and new.

The value of physical things is clear: materials, size, and functionality all play a crucial role. But how is the value of a digital product created? What motivates people to buy something intangible?

People purchase digital products (such as digital clothing) when they are part of a community. Many kids nowadays play computer games, and for them, a virtual skin may be more valuable to them than a physical gift from their parents on their birthday. Community management drives the sales of digital goods. However, it’s not about imposition — either a person sees the value in something or they don’t.

When you started working with fashion, did you discover that fully digital clothing is less appealing to people than semi-digital clothing? Why is that?

Fully digital clothing can only satisfy the needs of a digital persona, not a physical one. Since we still don’t have AR lenses, I’m wearing a jacket right now—I need physical clothing to cover my body, and digital clothing can’t do that. Semi-digital clothing is a composite. It covers our bodies while making digital content more fascinating. It’s also environmentally friendly: one physical t-shirt can become five different online looks. Digital clothing is an excellent concept; we’ll get there eventually. Brands are already working on AR fitting, but the technology is still imperfect. It’s impossible to make digital clothing realistically conform to a body, adapting to the figure — but that’s where it’s all heading.

AR has already entered the realms of fashion, beauty, and art. In the future, which products will become old-school if they don’t have AR functionality?

The technology is already everywhere. But soon, it will be even more prevalent in document processing. AR products are being developed to help analyze documents — you scan text, and the program offers explanations to simplify understanding. AR will also make its way into beauty and healthcare. For example, L’Oréal works on AR mirrors that apply makeup, analyze your skin, suggest treatments, and more.

How has augmented reality technology evolved in recent years?

Over this time, almost nothing has significantly changed. AR still operates through devices — you open a camera and see digital elements in the physical world. The only notable development is the rise of XR headsets. Formally, it’s the same augmented reality, but now in glasses.

It’s crucial not to confuse XR with VR. A VR headset completely immerses you in a new virtual world, whereas with XR glasses, you see the world as it is but with additional elements. This latter technology is currently trending, with both Meta and Apple actively popularizing it (for instance, the upcoming release of the Apple Vision Pro is precisely about mixed reality). The boundaries between AR and VR are blurring, and we may soon have devices combining both technologies in a single device.

For Maybelline New York, you created the largest AR mirror in the world—what was the idea behind it?

AR mirrors are currently my favorite digital product. I’m a strong advocate for social AR — the kind used in Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat—basically, it’s in the user’s pocket. The struggle is real when you have to download something extra or come up with passwords. People decide within 5 seconds whether to interact with a product, so augmented reality must be easily accessible. AR mirrors simplify interaction even further. Now, a person might not need to grab their phone at all to use augmented reality — because we’re taking AR offline. All you have to do is walk up to the mirror, and it automatically captures content for you (which you receive in a few seconds by scanning a QR code). It’s a hands-free interaction.

Augmented reality mirrors can serve various functions. For Mugler, we created an AR mirror that captures content. For Prada Beauty, we created a photo booth where, after interacting, you receive printed photos to take with you. For Maybelline New York, we made the world’s largest AR mirror. You approach the booth, look into the camera, and simultaneously see yourself on the big screen at the Gulliver Shopping Mall.

According to Zuckerberg, the Metaverse is a virtual space where one can live, work, and fulfill most needs. But what does the metaverse look like in practice?

Zuckerberg’s vision seems over-promised. Until everyone has a VR headset, it’s challenging to talk about a fully-fledged metaverse — it’s currently just virtual reality. So, as of now, the metaverse doesn’t exist. However, we can already use virtual reality technology for remote brand activations, such as hosting virtual events on platforms like Decentraland, Roblox, etc.

Apart from hosting events, what other marketing options exist in the metaverse?

Gaming is another use case. Many brands create games in the metaverse simply because they can afford to. However, it’s hard to say if these activations yield the desired results. Media writes about them, but sometimes, the number of articles about an event in the metaverse exceeds the number of people who participated in and tried this virtual experience. It works like an info drive. In the Metaverse, there’s a lot of art for art’s sake, but if a brand enters with its logo, it’s usually to drive offline sales. That’s why no Instagram filter, Metaverse experience, or virtual influencer will deliver the desired results without a communication strategy behind it.

It’s becoming increasingly challenging for brands to promote themselves. We’re bombarded with advertising everywhere: in the subway, on the streets, and on our devices. If you’re not paying for the product, you become the product for advertising. That’s why people can’t tolerate branded content very much. Metaverse integrations and social AR are native integrations into the consumer’s world, making them more receptive. Returning to the example of AR mirrors, it’s a unique use case, so people voluntarily interact with it. It’s intriguing, something they haven’t seen before. However, trends change; at some point, AR mirrors will be everywhere, and people won’t interact with them as actively.

When creating a digital product, how do you balance branding and nativeness? 

The more branding that’s used in an AR filter, the less the users’ motivation to interact with it and share the created content. Users should derive a native win and fun from using the product. Therefore, the general rule is that the less branded the product, the higher the chances people will use it. However, there are numerous examples of branded filters gaining popularity. This balance is elusive — placing a logo in a certain way doesn’t guarantee success.

What should brands know about consumers in the metaverse before venturing into it? 

There are offline, online, and virtual personas, each representing the same individual. People may express themselves differently on each platform; for instance, being more reserved in face-to-face interactions but bold and open online. Brands must understand where, besides the virtual space, their audience is. While we venture online for virtual reactions, these reactions are still necessary for offline individuals — all three personas are interconnected.

How can a brand seamlessly enter the Metaverse and engage in Web3 activities while maintaining its identity, without appearing to jump on the hype train?

It’s crucial to understand the purpose of venturing into Web3 and avoid virtual activations disconnected from the brand’s overall activities. We often openly discuss with clients that Web3 is over-promising and that predicting the outcomes of a Metaverse integration is challenging. Sometimes, the brand might not need that kind of activation at all. Instead of focusing solely on Metaverse activities, we’ll propose a hybrid AR project that spans both online and offline. The key now is to approach these activations comprehensively and avoid isolating them from one another.

Why are brands increasingly creating virtual influencers, and what are they doing to avoid falling into the uncanny valley? 

Virtual influencers are anthropomorphic media entities entirely owned by brands. Their capabilities extend beyond the physical world, allowing them to fly, speak multiple languages, and simultaneously be present in multiple locations. They won’t switch to a competitor, get sick, or take a vacation. Additionally, audiences tend to respond better to virtual influencers than conventional bloggers. The uncanny valley effect is advantageous here, making users pause and contemplate whether the entity before them is real. If your content can make someone pause for even a second, it’s a win, given our tendency to overlook everything.

We shifted to semi-digital clothing and considered placing NFC chips on it but opted for QR codes for their visibility. When you see a QR code on clothing, you immediately think, “What’s this? Why is it here?” Such a reaction holds significant value.

Virtual influencers gain popularity because they bring a sense of fandom to the audience. For example, people once followed the virtual blogger Miquela as if she were a character in a Netflix series. Although everyone knew it wasn’t a real story, it featured storytelling, a plot, and a social stance that resonated with people. Interestingly, in the Metaverse, virtual influencers are just as (un)real as other users — they don’t stand out from the crowd.

How do we bridge the gap between virtual and physical brand experiences?

If the goal of Web3 activation is to drive offline sales, maintaining the brand’s visual style is crucial. In the future, the Metaverse will likely define our offline experiences. Still, for now, it remains a utopia. The virtual spaces created today are based on our imaginations of magical universes — a topic widely discussed within the community. However, this approach is somewhat old-school; we operate within the confines of our past experiences. Building the Metaverse involves erasing these old perspectives to create something entirely new, presenting an intriguing prospect.

To what extent are Ukrainian brands and users ready to delve into Web3?

Ukraine is highly innovative, and this is not only about “Diia” (a government initiative). Several years ago, every brand had an Instagram filter — there was no need to explain their purpose. In Europe, there is still a struggle to understand what they are and why they exist. It’s not that Ukraine always leads in everything, but the readiness for digital experiments is higher here

There is also interest in the Metaverse, but the challenge lies in the high cost of entry into Web3. Creating a metaverse takes time and a substantial budget, and for the same investment, a brand could execute a series of other digital activations with potentially more substantial results. While there have been requests for metaverse development, we’ve turned down clients when it didn’t make sense.

The Metaverse will become more accessible as technology spreads. Currently, the main challenge is that expectations regarding technology are growing faster than the technology itself. We want to wear VR glasses and see an entirely realistic image, but currently, it’s pixelated because processors are still limited in speed and data processing power. However, the more we invest in technology, the more it will meet our expectations, and consequently, it will become more affordable for brands.


Quiz. When will VR headsets become the second smartphone and be (almost) ubiquitous? 

Someday 🙂

What experience or feature currently unavailable in the Metaverse are you eagerly anticipating?

I’m looking forward to seeing features in the metaverse that I can’t even imagine right now. Currently, we are translating our online and offline activities into the metaverse, but I expect it to offer a unique, unparalleled experience.

If “real” is no longer exclusively about the material, what is it about?

“Today, real is what is represented.” — I heard this phrase in an art gallery and thought it was real talk, especially in representing diversity in society, which we need to achieve if we want to be part of the EU. Brands, too, are only real when we represent them — if no one talks about them, they don’t exist. Ultimately, if you go to a park and don’t tell anyone about it, the event will be seemingly real, but it will need validation to be transferred into the digital realm for it to exist.

Interview: COO FFFACE.ME Polina Klekovkina for SKVOT MAG

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