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“The Metaverse Will Be at Least 30% Of Every Creative Agency’s Business in the Next Few Years”

London, UK
The LBB editorial team distils down what the industry had to say about the most buzzword-y theme at the IRL Cannes Lions 2022 Festival of Creativity, including MRM CCO Ronald Ng’s bold prediction above
[Pictured above: The Wunderman Thompson Inspiration Beach, which launched to coincide with Cannes Lions 2022]

Around lunchtime on Wednesday last week, the LBB & Friends Beach took a leap into one conversation of many around the metaverse, as The Mill presented its panel - The Mill​: ​​​Building a Wardrobe for the Metaverse​.

Andrew Melchior EVP global director of brand experience at the Mill chaired a panel on the metaverse which brought together leading industry figures in the space: Katie Burke, co-lead for the metaverse continuum, Accenture Song; Nick Pringle, SVP ECD, R/GA; Elav Horwitz. SVP global innovation & creative partnerships director at McCann Worldwide; Gareth Jones, SVP marketing, North America at Wunderman Thompson.

Recognising that the metaverse is probably one of the most talked-about topics at Cannes Lions 2022, the panel started on a light note with Gareth Jones advising the audience at the LBB & Friends beach “not to trust anyone who calls themselves a metaverse expert”. Something R/GA’s Nick Pringle then humorously used to introduce himself at any opportunity. On a more serious note, there was a general consensus amongst all panellists that they are still very much in the exploratory and learning phase when it comes to the metaverse. Each panellist outlined various toolkits they had been building to educate their clients on how to create meaningful applications and strategies as well as basic teachings about the sector.

Mid-discussion, Katie Burke reminded the audience and panel not just to think about “digital experiences” but the physical too.

Katie and Nick also argued that the metaverse will only really break into the mainstream when it ‘disappears’. Nick explains that “what people really care about is what tech enables, not what it is.” He says that successful technologies in the past are ones which we no longer notice in our day to day routine. And Katie agrees that the current friction of access to some experiences - VR / AR etc. - can often be the barrier to them becoming widely used. When we think about the metaverse hitting the mainstream, we need to think invisible. 

The panel clashed heads on one issue posed by Andrew. Following a question around what types of content or topic matter will draw people into the metaverse, he asked if we should really consider the possibility that creative businesses are becoming more akin to those in the gaming industry - Katie Burke challenged the panel, arguing that gaming was not necessarily relevant for all.

She said, “Are we renaming the gaming industry the metaverse? Is that what we're doing? Because there are a lot of people that don't play games at this point that all of our brands and all of our clients still have to reach as well. Gaming is the original platform …but I do think that there's going to be a range of how people want to experience the metaverse. And so we can't just assume that everyone wants to gamify every part of their life. I truly don't believe that that's the case.”

Elav at McCann added to this, “It's not a technology. It's based on the idea. It's based on the stories, it's based on real people.” 

Unsure if he was agreeing or disagreeing, Gareth Jones weighed in with the view that the key for companies is connection, which includes gaming. “Storytelling is a way of connecting. Play is a way of connecting. Play releases dopamine, which makes you feel good about connecting and the more you can gamify that, the stronger connections and the better story you're going to be able to tell - ultimately being more successful for your brands.”

The panel rounded off with a final discussion on ethics and accessibility - something all panellists agreed needed to be outlined (and fast!) to keep people safe and protected as many begin to invest in this space.

This was just one of countless conversations at Cannes Lions 2022 about the digital realities the ad industry will need to navigate more into the future. The LBB editorial team also discussed the subject with a range of leaders from around the world throughout the week. Here’s a sample of what they had to say.

Ronald Ng,
Global CCO, MRM

We create ideas to build relationships between brands and businesses and people. We need to recognise where millions or billions of people are. Just think about gaming as one aspect of the metaverse, find the stats, something like 2 billion people game. So gaming is probably the first peek into what the future of the metaverse is. So if we talk about putting people in the centre, and we're not there… we're not doing justice to our clients. So we need to be, obviously, there. We need to help our clients be there in a different way. Because it's so tempting to just say: ‘Let’s do something in the metaverse, let's do something ‘web3’, let's do an NFT’, or ‘let’s do creative data, let's do technology’. 

Because nobody needs to have a frickin NFT. If we are to do one, as I tell my teams, make sure it's completely different, new and something people will give a shit about. I always have a very simple rule: that nobody wants to see what you're doing. So how do you overcome that? Find ways. 

For the metaverse, I think -  in my terrible judgement - it will be at least 30% of every creative agency's business in the next few years. It's going to be big. 

It's a new playground, it’s a new opportunity - just like data was. When this new appreciation of data first started, it was a playground for me and a springboard for my clients. So that's why I jumped in so early. And the metaverse is that. We're talking to clients [about the metaverse] and clients want to talk to us. Very importantly, it's a combination of ‘they have no choice’ and that they absolutely see the importance.

Caitlyn Ryan
VP, Meta

Jump in and experiment. Because you have to. Just learn how to build, whether it's Horizon Worlds or Decentraland or Roblox. Get in there and start building. However, I think what would be a shame is to go back to the Second Life experience. You know, 'We're Shell so we'll build a petrol station in a virtual world'. So, not trying to replicate what you see in the physical world within the digital world. But having said that, jump in now and start experimenting.  It's not hard to get into. You can get into Horizon Worlds, build something just to play around with it and experiment and see how people respond to that experience?

We don't really think about the metaverse as only being in VR. It's more about creating this digital experience in the physical world. The Unfiltered Museum is a great example of Spark AR creating a filter and you could imagine that in eyewear. So that's what we're talking about. Don't think of the metaverse as only this five-to-ten-years-out VR. I need to live in the virtual world. Then think of it more as cross-platform plus a digital layer on the physical world.

Leila Katrib
Executive Creative Director, VMLY&R COMMERCE Dubai

Honestly, it has so much potential because it's so not properly defined. Right now, if you look at all the talks I've been to basically anything that has to do with gaming, anything has to do with VR/AR, anything that has an avatar - that all goes under the metaverse. That has been there for years, it just has a different name. But think about it now in terms of experience, in terms of a journey. There's so much you can do now beyond just a game. Imagine if you can an NFT with adidas sneakers, which were the first metaverse sneakers [Ozworld] – they won a Silver in Cannes. That's a beautiful idea. Because now brands can actually sell their products that you can only use in the metaverse, from one game to another. Gamers were already buying these. They would pay extra money to change their outfit. But now it's a real life brand, customised or designed especially for your avatar. People love it!

You've seen how many game clients have collaborated with brands just to do some interesting new experience. I think they love it because anytime we get some new experience that will just enhance their game (as long as it doesn't disrupt them while they're gaming because that's like the biggest no-no).

Andrea Cook
CEO, Performance Art

My perspective on the metaverse is: I think our industry is known for shiny toy pushing. You know… NFTS! Big shiny toys! I think a more interesting conversation is around the data and what's going to happen with the data in the metaverse and the reliance on the bridging that's going to need to happen between web2 and web3. 

I'm fascinated by the dichotomy of the whole thing. You have people rushing to get into the metaverse and data, as we know, is building in quantity daily. But we're more averse to error and all sorts of things that come from the nature of using more data. We're rushing towards the metaverse but it is the most unregulated, ungoverned, crazy place to be playing in. So actually, I think our job is kind of where we've been sitting - at the edges of data and creativity - since we existed. And we’ll continue to be there because I think what we're going to find is that we're going to have no idea how to build community and sustain community between web2 and web3, and I think people will realise that there is zero governance in these places. As a customer starting to control their own data in a governance-less world, I think that’s going to be a fascinating space. We’ll be about supporting that journey in the long term. [It will be] fun to watch! 

Daniel Bonner
Global CCO, Wunderman Thompson

We have been living in gaming as avatars of ourselves and a virtual version of the real world, all that kind of stuff. That's been happening for quite some time. So I think it's matured, and it's been given a name, but actually, it's been around for some time. And I think that's what I've heard any experts talking about, which I'm not an expert. This technology's been around and it's sufficiently matured now where it feels like it could be mass. You have the big platforms interested in it, some even taking some of that language and using it to rename themselves with. But so yeah, I mean, is it really new or is it just another chapter in something that already existed? Probably the latter

I think generation alpha are the ones who will grow up and won't even know that there was a time when metaverse wasn't a thing, having a virtual world and a real world that are in sync. A mirror world or digital twins or whatever you want to call it., We've got to be ready for that.

Lucas Peon 
Chief Creative Officer, The Gate London

I come from a digital background. I get very excited with digital. And the metaverse, I think, is just like the conversation of digital back 15 years ago or whenever it was. It's a conversation about the online and digital world 7.2. I think the metaverse is just an evolution of it. It's inevitable. What I always loved about digital was the sense that it was inevitable. It's a force that you know is going to happen. Technology is going to be part of us.

The only thing that the only thing that you can calculate is the ebbs and flows of how we'll get there, and exactly how it's going to be. And how many dips you're going to have in momentum, because there are things that stop the momentum. But you can have the certainty that we will get there. And there'll be a time where, maybe not the vision that we have that you're completely lost and you have no personality in the real world, but you will spend a lot of time in the digital space, and we do more and more ourselves. So as creators, we have to understand how the behaviours of our audiences will be.

Our work is to try to connect with audiences. So if the masses will be spending so much time in the digital space in the online space, or whatever you call it to try not to say the word metaverse, you'd better understand it, you'd better be good at it. You've got to understand it in depth to be able to have ideas that connect with people, that surprise people.

As agencies, you have to have that knowledge. You have to have that understanding of the direction of travel. And you have to help your clients to be part of that when it's appropriate to be.

You've got to understand, you've got to be able to teach your clients. It's our obligation. You can't fight against it. In advertising or marketing, you can't fight against things; you have to go with them and always be a little bit ahead to be able to surprise audiences.

Manuel Borde
Global CCO, VMLY&R Commerce

It's like it's a world of possibilities and we've only scratched the surface right now. You might say that the metaverse conversation doesn't look very different from virtual reality. Second Life. It looks like a game. But we have to start exploring. We have to start looking at what the possibilities are. We just hired a new role, a web3 creative director, which is going to help us figure that out in commerce. It will help us unlock those commerce possibilities in web3 topics.

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