Will the metaverse trigger a restructuring of brand and agency teams?

The advertising industry can be slow to take advantage of new marketing opportunities due to legacy structures and relationships, as well as a lack of specialist talent and skills. Industry experts discuss how the metaverse could force some much-needed change.

The customers of tomorrow will be in the metaverse, we're told. Facebook is so convinced of this, it is planning to change its name to reflect its commitment to the metaverse (or maybe to distance itself from its past; we'll leave that to you to decide). But will anyone be selling or marketing to these consumers? Brands and agencies may not be structured to take advantage of this burgeoning marketing channel, according to metaverse specialists.

The industry has been historically slow to adapt to major technological changes, from the birth of the modern internet to the shift to mobile, social and cloud in Web 2.0.

"A lot of money and time were wasted at the beginnings of these S-curves," says Alex Wills, chief experience officer of post-production facility The Mill. With Web 3.0 approaching—a more immersive, connected, and open version of the internet—Wills recommends brands and agencies develop a framework strategy to allow for early experimentation and experience development.

This will require "much deeper" agency-brand relationships, a greater reliance on partners and freelance talent, and fluid internal structures, experts tell Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Indeed, legacy structures and thinking are often cited as the biggest obstructions to marketing innovation. As part of an in-depth series exploring marketing in the metaverse, Campaign asked five experts whether they expect the 'beyond universe' to cause shifts in brand and agency structures. Their full answers below.

Tessa Conrad, head of innovation, TBWA Asia

There’s a lot of factors causing shifts in brand and agency structures, whether it’s Covid, fee structures, remote talent, shifting to projects over retainers, etc. But the metaverse definitely will create and amplify a lot of these shifts. For the first part, I think it’ll force brands and agencies to have a much deeper business strategy relationship. Given communities are the crux of the metaverse, it’s imperative to share more data and be extremely aligned in brand, community, product and future objectives.

While I don’t think project relationships are going anywhere, I think having a couple of solid thinkers and orchestrators as part of a team will be crucial. Having a partner in this space is crucial, as you need someone constantly thinking about the bigger picture with you or you risk being stuck in gimmicky marketing that’ll be rejected by the communities wanting authenticity in the metaverse.

I also think we’ll see a more even mixture of full-time and freelance talent. Given no one can be an expert in everything, we need to be more agile in when and how we tap talent while making sure it’s beneficial for all partners. Finally, I think the continuous rise in creators in the metaverse will see partnerships becoming a much larger aspect of brand and agency relationships. Not everything needs to be under the same roof, but proven success with different partners will increase the objectiveness of putting together business solutions for the metaverse.

Michael Patent, founder, Culture Group

What is unique about the metaverse is that it is decentralised, so a technologist or a creative community or an artist has the ability to develop something in partnership with the brand. I don't think a lot of brands are set up to be proactive in seeking those opportunities. If you think of the way a digital group might be structured within any given brand, they could be looking at a lot of commerce or a lot of brand focused-initiatives, but they may not be looking at creating their brand in a new realm that wasn't considered when the job was written.

I think the best structure would be less structure. If you are a global or regional brand, you often think in the form of structure and how that structure supports your business. But we're talking about activations and a creative community in a world that's inherently unstructured. So creating an environment within your company where you can attract cryptocurrency, blockchain and virtually endemic talent to the organisation is going to be the first step. And without creating that environment you won't be a desirable place to work or to partner with for anybody who has that skillset. And when I say endemic, we're generally talking about young sharp people who often are working on a project basis rather than on a career basis.

Every company will have to go through a process of asking, 'what will our brand role and what will our business opportunity be in the virtual realm?' And then they will need to understand who owns that profit and brand perception within the organisation. That's going to be different in every company. I can foresee somebody who is Web 3.0 or metaverse-driven sitting between divisions—much in the same way an innovation head does—but with P&L responsibility. In the same way that if we go back ten years ago, ecommerce lived within retail because it sold products, but then a lot of brands realised this is a digital initiative and it should sit within digital. The faster we can get to the conclusion that this is going to be a standalone initiative that is interconnected with other areas of the business, the better.

David Porter, VP of global media for APAC and Africa, Unilever

Agencies have always had fluid structures. Digital people sat in incubation pods only a generation ago. Now they’re leading the holding companies. There will always be a small group finding its way through the next new thing. When it becomes the next big thing, the group comes back into the agency mothership and the cycle is repeated. We're seeing the rise of people who are numerate, data-literate, inquisitive and creative. And we’re seeing more inclusive leaders who bring together the multifunctional teams that are needed to play in such a complex space. 

Alex Wills, chief experience officer, The Mill

It is certainly about to get a whole lot more complicated for both parties as we begin to really grapple with the incredibly powerful combination of digital currencies/crypto and massive real-time 3D experiences and characters. And we will see a definite rise in specialist partners who can support and deliver these new experiences at scale. But also the key principles remain regarding attracting audiences and delivering brand value. Understanding what are the core capabilities and where partners come in will be even more critical moving forward. 

Emma Chiu, global director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

There will be a higher demand for tech and games capabilities within companies. Even content creators who are technologists. New departments within companies that reflect games companies will not be surprising in the upcoming years. Think of how social media has taken off and created new departments.

This story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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