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Industry Contributor 26 Jul 2022 - 5 min read

Meet my meta half – a marketers' guide to the metaverse, part one

By Ben Cooper - Founder, Tricky Jigsaw & Group Innovation Director, M&C Saatchi

Marketers are scrambling to understand what the metaverse actually represents. The truth is, we already live there, says Tricky Jigsaw founder Ben Cooper, and Web 3.0 is shaping up to maintain pretty much Web 2.0 status quo – but replacing the 2D screen with a 3D headset. That means the same problems will perpetuate, unless brands collectively plan ahead. Can marketers lift the emergent sustainability playbook and establish a "positivity" vertical to held reduce another wave of tech-induced mental illness?

 

I woke up the other morning to a breakfast screen scene.

My daughter, a recent school band recruit, was midway through a euphonium tutorial on Zoom. My wife was listening to an online yogi via headphones in an environment much more chilled than our living area. And my similarly-headphoned son was watching a concert in Fortnite (with a few million of his farthest friends).

I paint this picture of virtual domesticity – virtual in the context of online technology – not for the uniqueness of my own family’s situation, but rather for its sudden pandemic-induced ubiquity. I reached for my own headphones and as euphonium music disappeared beyond the noise-cancelled news stream, I realised that we already live in the metaverse. My entire family was there, but nobody was present.

To have and to host (sic)...

Our households have become the host platforms for the interactive virtual worlds referred to by the already cliched, yet still misunderstood, term describing the Internet’s third iteration. To be fair, I never imagined a Matrix-inspired, dystopian metaverse, but neither did I think that Hanna-Barbera could look 80 years ahead and get so many things right with their futuristic vision for The Jetsons.

By no means is it utopian. My online avatar currently looks like a middle-aged man, with some wrinkles around the eyes and a few grey hairs. He probably needs a haircut and a shave. It’s very realistic. A bit too much so. No wonder so many people like to keep their cameras off in meetings.

Whether we’ve realised it or not, the metaverse is here and it’s a part of our everyday lives, so it’s worth asking if those lives are becoming better? Or worse?

Looking ahead, “Web 3.0” is the most-anticipated web-technology since Web 2.0. And Web 1.0 before that. Most media dedicated to the topic sings of opportunities to right the centralised wrongs of walled ecosystems. Similarly, decentralisation of information, you and I know it as online “transparency,” is viewed as the solution to government disinformation, be it from democracies or autocracies alike.

My friends and colleagues would describe me as optimist and, it’s true, I have lofty hopes for the benefits the web’s next generation could bring to our personal and professional lives. I’m conscious, however, that the metaverse glass is currently hype-full.

The future is most often portrayed without evidence of the past. Why would anyone want to think about the past? It’s messy. Shut it in the closet and hope the skeletons don’t rattle too loudly when people come to dinner. But I say give those skeletons a seat at the table! We can learn so much from them (and they don’t eat much).

Is the metaverse really the Web’s third-time lucky where nothing could possibly go wrong and everyone will live happily ever after ‘til death do us part?

Of course it isn’t.

A “DAO,” or Decentralised Autonomous Organisation, transacts on the blockchain, both financially and administratively. With code-based rules for self-government, voting rights belong to VIP users who have purchased a stake, often digital property. The metaverse darling DAO is Decentraland. I see what they did there. It’s mentioned in glass-hype full articles that paint rosy pictures of life beyond the current walled gardens of incumbent tech colossi. But what’s the reality?

The reality is money. And not cryptocurrency.

Decentraland has raised US$50 million in investment since 2017. It seems like a lot but it’s really not enough when you’re rendering your own version of the internet in 3D. If you’re not familiar with the blockchain or don’t have a crypto wallet and a powerful computer, it’s not a positive user experience. Self-government isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. A motion to ban the username, “Hitler,” failed because Decentraland couldn’t get enough users with voting rights to turn up for a quorum.

In the meantime, the centralised tech giants such as Meta (I see what Facebook did there too) are spending billions on their own next generation web platforms. Meta’s US$10 billion annual investment in the Horizon Worlds virtual platform makes the choice between it and any decentralised offering a bit like marrying for money or marrying for love.

For richer or poorer…

Mind you, that’s a user experience reference. I borrowed a Meta Quest VR headset and dived in (and yep, see what they did there too) – right now it’s the App Store in slick virtual reality. The metaverse really looks to be shaping up to maintain similar offerings as in Web 2.0, but replacing the 2D screen with a 3D headset.

Headphones off post-breakfast, my daughter had replaced the euphonium lesson with Roblox and I had the usual pre-basketball argument to get my son off Fortnite. It is this and many other identical arguments that keep me awake longer than any centralised corporate or government shonkiness.

In sickness and in health…

The metaverse will continue to provide users access to interactive experiences, allowing for interoperability with everything we use today, user created content, ecommerce, social connection and gaming. The same type of online offerings from Web 2.0 that have led to the highest incidence of mental illness since Hippocrates discovered it was a thing 2,500 years ago.

Web 3.0, rendered in 3D, will not address the ever-growing sophistication of marketing strategies that addict people, young and old, to the dopamine rush released by gamified online experiences. The attendant mental health problems are only likely to be exacerbated in an immersive metaverse.

From this day forward…

The future doesn’t leave the past behind. As marketers, we should hold a weather eye to both, knowing metaverse client briefs will come. As climate change has given rise to a “sustainability” vertical, it’s not a stretch to think that a “positivity” vertical could be established in marketing. The goal being to influence a virtuous reality (sorry) through lived real world experiences (perhaps even gamified) and help to reduce tech-induced mental illness for end-consumers. Or any other stakeholder.

Perhaps marketing needs its own vows, akin to the Hippocratic oath, that keeps us mindful of our impact on customers. No matter what world they’re in. A “hype-ercratic oath” maybe?

Read part two, 'How not to be a metaverse noob', here.

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Ben Cooper

Founder, Tricky Jigsaw & Group Innovation Director, M&C Saatchi

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