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Virtual Reality (VR) Brand Strategy NFTs

Developing the anteverse: the metaverse must be driven by real benefit

By Dickon Laws, Global head of innovation

Ogilvy UK

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June 8, 2022 | 6 min read

The ad industry's opinion of the so-called metaverse is held in the balance between rampant excitement and bemused skepticism. Dickon Laws, global head of innovation at Ogilvy Experience, tells us that what we have right now is the 'anteverse': an early ancestor, which will be shaped by tangible benefits for real people.

A shoot of a plant coming out of a bed of soil

Ogilvy Experience's global head of innovation Dickon Laws says: we're living in the anteverse / Majharul Islam via Unsplash

History tends to repeat itself. For the concept of the metaverse, that either signals (like other hype cycles) its premature end or its rapid acceleration.

The key is benefit and impact on everyday lives.

Getting your house in order

We hope that the metaverse, from a benefit point of view, will be an extension to our lives, like an extension to a home.

The world is getting smaller. The human race is growing. You could say we're outgrowing our reality. We can now extend that reality through technologies like virtual and augmented reality.

For now, extended reality is mainly escapism. Rather than building a bigger house, we're building a bigger garden. A place to get away. To breathe and to forget about the strains of life.

We would only build a bigger house if we felt it would provide tangible benefit: increased property value, better use of redundant space, or a change in usage (maybe an office to work from home in)?

We can see the potential benefit of an extended or second reality to blend with our own. But as everyday people, we can’t yet see the return on investment of using it to extend our lives.

We've been here before

Emerging technology always starts with opaque potential that a few can see through, but most just glimpse. It takes a focused leap by creative services to start to make the technology transparent, easily appreciated, understood, unavoidable and magnetically adopted.

This version of the metaverse is effectively the iPhone 1.

At the time, it seemed sophisticated; a total departure from what we knew. Now, 13 iterations later, it’s a relic. A rudimentary solution that you might find on eBay, with value as a historical artifact rather than a piece of technology.

The adoption of the iPhone was initially slow, led by early adopters who understood its potential and accepted its shortcomings. Things started to change when apps started to become useful. The market accelerated when people saw iPhone not as a phone, but a multipurpose tool.

Wheels for hats

The secret to repeating that process to provide the same growth for the metaverse lies in NFTs and crypto-wallets. The iPhone is the wallet, and NFTs are the apps.

NFTs are not about digital art, just as apps are not about digital pints of beer (remember that app?). Their potential holds the same sort of benefits as Google Maps, Apple Pay, Facebook Connect and Instagram do today. They make life easier for consumers but also manufacturers, by providing tools for improving metaverse CX.

NFTs will give a skeleton key to new metaverse environments, allowing brands to send you rewards and content, personalized by items in your wallet; letting you switch clothing between a sporting event and a business meeting; helping you locate a meeting place for friends in Decentraland.

These tools will make the pull of the metaverse more tangible, and benefit-led; allowing people to look past the baffling technology, pushing the mechanics into the background, enjoying the benefits of the new extension to their lives as easily as with WiFi.

I've said before that what we've done with NFTs and digital art is like inventing the wheel, then wearing it as a hat. NFTs are the wheels of the metaverse; when used properly, they will truly accelerate the growth and fulfillment of its potential.

A second attempt at second life

What about the negative aspect of history repeating itself? Look at Second Life: a great concept, ahead of its time. But it failed to move the experience from ‘escapism’ to ‘utility’.

We found little use for it beyond a replica of reality and a place to live out fantasy lives in ways we couldn't IRL, less due to technological limitations than societal acceptance and judgment. It was totally fine to marry someone in Second Life who lives on the other side of the world and may be 65-year-old Mark and not 25-year-old Maria (or vice versa).

The lights are still on in Second Life, but nobody is home. (Well, there are a few souls there, but I suspect not the ones you would want to hang out with). In the end, the music stopped, and the party was over. It didn’t attract the cash from major players to develop it into more than just a poorer version of real life.

The Gartner Hype Curve (which models the typical trajectory of emerging technologies) says that there's an important moment after the initial hype dies down, when the tech balances on a knife edge of success or defeat. That’s when those that see the long-term potential of it all double down, keep the faith and push on. They know that the value and understanding will come, but the trick is to find everyday use cases (rather than the early adoption use cases) that bring scale, benefit and impact to everyday households.

That will be the metaverse. What we have now is the anteverse*.

*Ante: from the Latin, meaning 'before', 'previous', 'ahead', 'forwards'.

Virtual Reality (VR) Brand Strategy NFTs

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