Last year we set out on a journey to understand what Web3 might offer to our brands and the agency itself. A journey that involved learning fast, and failing faster, as we stepped into a space where anyone who claims to be an expert is probably stretching the truth. Especially considering the infancy of everything Web3 has to offer.
Whilst we’re not experts, we are a group of people, extremely excited by how this space has started to open up to brands; and personally, by the potential for building genuine and fulfilling connections between our brands and consumers. Even if we'll never really know what they look like, or even where they live.
This article isn't an opportunity to argue the benefits of Web3 for our brands. Instead, it’s an opportunity for us to share our exploration and failures in the hope of some lessons learnt. If building the plane whilst flying at 700mph isn’t your idea of fun, I'd probably stop reading now.
Spotting internet charlatans
If you’ve ever been catfished, you’ll probably know that it’s oddly enticing at first, before the overwhelming sense that it isn’t what you've signed up for kicks in. The same is true about the search for credible partners in this space, especially when it comes to production.
When taking on this search, we kissed a lot of frogs. Like, a lot. It was an experience that always started with an expansive and excitable pitch, before often ending with a complete lack of evidence or credibility; costs that made your eyes water, or the phrase “give us enough time and we can create anything”.
We did eventually get this right, though, with the key being an ability to read through the endless list of buzzwords and spot someone who has a real understanding of the space, as well as tangible examples to back this up. Whilst a lot of this feels like a leap of faith, many of these builders have been around long enough to have built up (sorry) some good case studies. If they haven’t or can’t show you them for some reason. I’d get out, fast.
Data gathering in an anonymous world
We're constantly on the path to create deeper and more meaningful connections with our consumers, and first-party data is a great way for us to unlock these relationships; allowing us to personalise content and ultimately be more relevant to them.
First-party data collection in Web3 is an entirely different kettle of fish. “Doxxing” has a somewhat confusing definition, including words like “risk” and “malicious intent”, but it's a big part of how personalities are molded in this world. Being doxxed means that you have the security associated with anonymity and, trust me, if you're making the big bucks on crypto or NFTs, you will want to escape hackers.
For agencies like us, hungry for data and insights, this anonymity provides a barrier to finding crucial information. Instead, we must look towards other proxy data to get to know our community. One of those things is the contents of their wallet, which, often proudly displayed to the wide world, can tell us a lot about the person behind the avatar.
For example, if a wallet were full of gaming avatars, or environmental NFTs, we would be able to understand their passions, inferring their broader profile and thinking in a much deeper way than other missing data forms, such as location or name, allow. The exciting challenge for agencies and their brands is how we go about building, segmenting, and targeting decentralized audiences. A constraint that, when treated creatively, could unlock some relatively groundbreaking and very exciting changes to how we work with this data.
Everyone’s a metaverse architect… seriously
Even though real-world architects toil for seven years, there are no such barriers in the decentralised virtual world. Just like how gamers became huge influencers streaming from their bedroom, these lands give the tech-savvy youth all the tools they need to assemble crazy structures using no-code platforms and a series of versatile pre-built segments.
The beauty of this is that architects are freed from real world limitations, such as resources, material costs and even the laws of physics, leading to groundbreaking designs. I guess the fact that no real disasters can happen in the virtual world helps distinguish this from real architecture, but it does encourage cowboys from pitching ideas they have no intention of producing successfully. One particular partner we were impressed with was a no-nonsense company from Denmark, claiming to have some of the most impressive buildings in Decentraland. For now, they will remain undoxxed to us only, though.
Holding the crypto purse strings
Even as a person acting alone, crypto can be scary to obtain and use. Just clicking the wrong button in Decentraland can lead to you paying Gas (a transaction fee) without being clear about why. This was something Mat & Piet (our Web3 creative specialists) found out the hard way, to the tune of $168 (£127.32).
Having the correct financial and legal support is very important, but with many of our clients, and theagency itself being part of large holding companies, this is easier said than done.
Thankfully, legal partners can facilitate a level of security, and mitigate against disasters bigger than Piet's sad, but largely insignificant loss. An email I don't think Jen, our head of interactive production, ever thought she would send was to one of these partners, asking for help renting a parcel of land in Decentraland. This email opened us up to the world of support that these people can provide, from help setting up smart contracts to general consultation and even recommending trusted partners. If you are just setting up a Web3 offering for your clients and don't know where to start, an email like this definitely wouldn't be a bad place.
Choosing a metaverse platform
Now this is where the uncertainty really kicks in. There are already a number of established metaverse platforms, with hundreds more hoping to take their own niche within Web3; ranging from spaces that are only really for gaming to mixed reality platforms where the sky (and your wallet) is the only limit. But how do you choose which one is right for your brand? Disappointingly there isn’t really one right answer to this. At least not one that we have found, but there are some interesting features that make some platforms stand out.
With ‘The Sandbox’ you get the most space to develop, with each plot containing its own undulating terraform. It’s somewhat offset by a blocky style that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but with season two launching only days ago we will soon see if it has the potential to emerge as the populist platform of choice.
Roblox offers a large and incredibly engaged community, but it’s more of a gaming platform than a metaverse, and the audience skews very young.
Of the big three, Decentraland currently offers the most balance with an incredibly diverse world, already home to so many interesting brands. Rental options for land are available too, making it even more accessible, but it doesn’t come without its own downsides including cost and a relatively tricky operating system.
If you haven’t chosen a world to step into yet though, you haven’t missed out. Some of the new worlds dropping this year promise to really shake up the category, each with their own unique strategic offering, including better graphics, and options to play through gaming devices, as well as AR. It's going to be an interesting six months.
Matt Henry is account director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO