New Zealand is a remote Island on the other side of the world, with lots of sheep and a lot less people. But what it lacks in manpower it seems to make up for in creativity. Funnily enough, New Zealand with a population of just 5 million people, manages to punch severely above its weight in the creative rankings at advertising festivals. For example: NZ has won 31 yellow pencils at the prestigious D&AD festival – a competition that is famously difficult to win. Germany, with a population sixteen times bigger, has won 44. And last year at Cannes, New Zealand won 1.8 lions per million people of population. Whereas the most successful nation at the festival – the USA – won just 0,7 lions per million people of population.

Being a kiwi myself, I thought I would try to hypothesize as to why a remote island in the south pacific has somehow managed to put itself on advertising’s creative map. Who knows, maybe we can all benefit a little from this island mentality?

To start with, NZ society has always been rather progressive. It was the first country in the world to give woman the vote for example. Conservative clients are the biggest killers of ideas and New Zealand just might have fewer of them?

The size of the country also means its media budgets reflect that. Therefore, agencies must make their ideas work harder to get attention, and that means disruptive thinking is not only encouraged but necessary. And because budgets are smaller, creatives are used to finding innovative ways to solve problems. Kiwis are renowned for this – it’s called “the No. 8 wire mentality” which is the notion that farmers can use a length of fence wire to fix any misbehaving machine. This cultural problem-solving mentality seems to also be helpful in producing great advertising.

Then there is the fact that because NZ has less people it also has less layers of complexity and hierarchy on the client side. That means ideas are usually presented to the people who make the decisions. From my experience, this is probably the most important factor for getting brave innovative work approved.

These are just guesses, but maybe there is some truth as to why a remote country like New Zealand has found its share of creative success or maybe there’s just something in the water?

This article was first published as part of the W&V “Innovationsradar” in the W&V issue 02/2023.

On July 5th, Meta introduced “Threads” on the market which seems to have a very similar purpose to Meta’s big rival Twitter. But what’s it all about? Is it another trendy alternative that will fade soon or later, or a serious threat to Twitter?

Designed to share text updates and public conversations, the newly launched app Threads sounds awfully lot like another Twitter clone. And that’s exactly what it is. But unlike the still invite-only Bluesky, created by Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey and Mastodon, mostly known for confusing potential users due to its complicated, decentralised instances and lacklustre UX, Threads and its close ties to Instagram managed to attract over 100 million users within its first 3 weeks.

While Threads has been launched in over 100 countries, one region is notably absent – and that is the European Union. The main reason for that is the Digital Markets Act, that is supposed to prevent dominating businesses in specific fields from abusing their power. In Threads’ particular case, transferring user data from Instagram to Threads and its tie ins into the bigger Meta ecosystem appear to be the major issue. It is still uncertain when and in what form Threads will launch in the EU.

However, Threads still has pretty barebone features – posts can be up to 500 characters long, they can include links, photos, and video content up to 5 minutes in length. So far, so unexciting. The true USP of Threads, however, is the close tie into the existing Instagram ecosystem. When signing up, users can directly follow their existing Instagram contacts, creating a very low-friction process of accessing your familiar contacts and interests right from the start.

Meta also announced, that in the future Threads will be compatible with the open ActivityPub protocol, which will enable Threads to be interoperable with services like Mastodon and blogging platform WordPress and potentially every other platform that has plans to implement the standard, e.g. Tumblr. For Meta, which historically was quite protective of its walled garden of services, this is a big step towards openness, especially during times when platforms tend to shut off their services from the rest of the internet more and more, as recently demonstrated by Twitter and Reddit.

One thing is certain: Threads poses a serious temptation for the growing number of Twitter users who are currently searching for alternatives since Elon Musk took over Twitter. Musk’s latest move to rebrand Twitter to “X” and his plans of turning the platform into the West’s first AI powered “super app” covering everything from social content to banking (just like WeChat in China or Kakao in South Korea), the uncertainty about the future of the platform keeps growing. If Twitter fails to reassure its users and regain their trust, Meta’s app Threads will get the upperhand.

Admittely, the launch of Threads feels a bit rushed. But from a strategic perspective, it makes a lot of sense to position Threads as a readily available, safer, easy-to-use alternative to Twitter, Mastodon and Bluesky. Obviously, the launch of Threads was no coincidence – it puts Meta in a really good position to take over the Microblogging market and position its app as the new global town square. While Threads right now has no monetization yet, it could be an attractive alternative for advertisers in the future with Meta’s established set of advertising products, in-depth targeting data and brand-safety standards.

By Helmi Abdalhadi | Manager, House Of Gaming at Serviceplan Group Middle East

To say we’re past the times when gamers were either “casual” or “hardcore” would be quite an understatement. While these two umbrella terms still categorise some gamers – especially in a way that is easy to understand for those who are not native to the scene – there are many niche personas within gaming audiences. As cogs in the ever-growing gaming industry, we hear it almost daily: “So much potential in this space but how am I supposed to reach the gamers I want to reach?” It’s a common dilemma that grows in parallel with both the industry and its fragmentation. 

For example, Game A’s audience is a completely different demographic than Game B’s. If you play Game A in one style, then you’re likely a different crowd than if you play it in another – and on, and on. This dissolution of the gaming sphere is one of the largest barriers to entry for brands. It’s messy, variable and most significantly, extremely foreign to non-gamers.

However, just as with any topic, there are different methods to effectively traversing the gaming maze. Some marketers find a meaningful connection between the brand and the gaming space, some identify a game whose core regional audience is very similar to the brand’s, and some – who are more committed – set an upstream strategy for a more long term vision. While attempting any or all the above, professionals should take advantage of the ways in which groups of gamers can be segmented. Brands and agencies have been creating global activations on this basis. 

There are strong gamer-persona classifications. GWI’s Gaming Personas report approaches this via analysing platforms used and content consumed, reaching conclusions such as Mobile-Only players’ most distinctive use of social media is to follow celebrities, or that Casual Gamers’ most distinctive brand advocacy motivation is access to exclusive content or services. SuperJump did it through age groups, gender and gaming purchasing habits. They have molded personas such as “The Subscriber” whose average age is just under 30, whose main reason for gaming is filling time and who is also most likely to be an early adopter of cloud gaming platforms. 

While all classifications provide substantial value in achieving the marketer’s vision, we are going to take a step back. Let’s look at selected personas strictly based on gamers’ interests outside of gaming, and how relevant global brands are transcending both games themselves, and the gaming industry by targeting these personas.


You’ve always been able to throw Pac-Man on a T-Shirt, but as gaming organisations, teams and influencers’ roles grew, they started to take notice that for many consumers, gaming has become less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. A lifestyle they’re willing to invest in given the correct brand advocacy motivators. These gamers are fashionable, involved in the latest trends and keep up with pop culture. They consume content like TV shows, anime, Esports and podcasts on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and TikTok. They play games such as competitive FPS (Valorant), competitive MOBA (League of Legends) and RPG Story games (Elden Ring). They also have high ambitions and are entrepreneurial – they enjoy being able to afford luxury brands.

The next action was to give these gamers-turned-fans something to represent their lifestyle and interests. This approach was pioneered by 100Thieves, an LA-based Esports organisation whose pillars aren’t only gaming, but also lifestyle, apparel and content. “We didn’t want to turn over creativity to some sports licensing firm who would make dozens of ugly T-shirts,” said John Robinson, president and COO of 100 Thieves. “Licensed apparel might have worked in the ’90s, but I don’t think it fits what our fans want today.” 100Thieves took inspiration from industries whose players took similar paths: Basketball (Air Jordan, Nike), HipHop (OVO, XO) and Skating (Supreme, Vans). 100Thieves recently partnered with Gucci to launch a full line of clothing targeting gamers, using 100Thieves influencers – who are gaming heroes – as models. 

Gucci are not the first – nor the last – luxury brand to tap into gaming. Louis Vuitton continues to partner with Riot Games since the collaboration’s inception in 2019. LV have now created in-game cosmetics for League of Legends champions and influencers, designed tournament trophies and released a full line of League of Legends themed clothing. Berlin-based gaming organisation G2 Esports announced a global partnership with Ralph Lauren in June 2021 that will see the two collaborate “across multiple campaigns and events while also launching a series of digital-first activations.” Just recently, Balenciaga entered the gaming space through a collaboration with Fortnite that resulted in a real-life and in-game clothing capsule. 

You may be thinking: alright, by now, we are definitely aware of gamers’ disproportionately high disposable income figures but does that really translate into luxury-esque amounts of spending? University College London Consumer and Business Psychologist Dimitrios Tsivrikos is cautiously optimistic. “I think your average gamer will not [buy these designs]. But then again, if this is successful, these sort of trends actually trickle down to more entry-level products. So these are the products that train young consumers to love and associate themselves with a brand, and once they have the income available to them, then they can actually purchase something that’s slightly more expensive.”

Tsivrikos is aware that it’s already happening. Outside of B2B partnerships, the same big brands that sponsor traditional athletes are now collaborating with Esports athletes and gaming influencers. Adidas have not only been creating and sponsoring tournaments in regions all over the world for years now, but they also announced Ninja as their first ever Esports athlete in 2019. Ninja has now co-designed two clothing lines and multiple sneakers with Adidas. One can’t speak about Ninja without mentioning his signature game – Fortnite. Fortnite and Epic Games are one of the biggest players in today’s market and have tapped into multiple personas including fashion through a Nike collaboration to bring the iconic Air Jordan 1s to players in game. AJ1s are known to the sneaker community as the shoes that gave birth to sneaker culture and, in typical hype-beast manner, players were able to receive the shoe as an in-game cosmetic for a limited time in May 2019.



It is no secret that an immense overlap exists between traditional sports audiences and gamers.  The melding of sports and gaming has been in the works since the inception of the gaming industry. One of the strongest associations that non-gamers make with the gaming scene is that of huge sports titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Wii Sports. And for good reason. FIFA 20 sold over 1.2m copies in its first month of sales, FIFA21 over 1.5m. Every Wii console shipped with Wii Sports as standard and it grew to be one of the most popular Wii games of all time regardless of its vanilla nature. 

It’s a natural connection. If you’re passionate about a particular sport, you’re likely interested in playing it virtually to continue exercising your competitive spirit. 

Sporting audiences have long been a lucrative target group for advertisers and brands. They possess strong brand advocacy motivators due to sport, team or athlete loyalty. The same applies to Esports and its audience if not to a greater extent as they possesses significantly higher disposable income as per the Magid research group. 

This audience is gym-crazed, extroverted, and competitive. They are a wide demographics in terms of gender and age. They consume Esports content on top of the broadcasted matches, consuming analytical and strategical content. They enjoy sporting titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Madden, as well as RTS games (Starcraft 2, Civilization 6) and plug-and-play games that can be competitive as well (Call of Duty, Overwatch). They consume content such as docu-series, sporting debates, podcasts and memes on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit. 

This connection between the traditional and virtual sporting worlds has been known for a while. Activations and projects that are designed to address it have been grabbing headlines for the better part of the last decade. Organisations and teams across different sports, leagues and continents have been creating Esports teams under the main team’s umbrella for some years. In European football, PSG, Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Schalke04 among many other top organisations field teams in FIFA as well as other Esports.

COVID-19 forced the hand of many sporting associations and teams to seek gaming and Esports as an alternative method of staying afloat. Formula 1’s 2020 season was cut in half due to cancellations and postponements and, for a while, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. To alleviate a collection of burdens including sponsor commitments, financial woes and fan demands, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, decided to hold several virtual Grand Prix races that included a mix of F1 drivers, athletes from other sports and F1 Esports professionals. The EVGP, as they were dubbed, were an unprecedented success. They were widely distributed across traditional and gaming platforms and achieved an audience of over 30 million viewers.


It should come as no surprise that gamers with expensive headphones and microphones are also one of music and audiophile companies’ key target groups. This audience is passionate about sound quality not only for their gaming, but also music and video consumption. They are willing to invest their high disposable income into their audio set-up, with products such as DACs, AMPs and audiophile headphones. These previously niche products have crept their way into the casual-tech ecosystem. Their users may begin with tunes, but then become interested in music production and audio engineering and editing. They may own 3-4 pairs of differently tuned earbuds for various use cases. These users are tech-savvy, collaborative in sharing productivity tips or new music, organised and ambitious of making a job out of a hobby. They also play an instrument and consume content such as tech, casual gaming, podcasts and music production on Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Apple Music.

However, music and gaming have had a rough few years leading up to the current wave of collaborations and integrations. In May 2020, the National Music Publishers Association struck down on the biggest gaming streaming platform, Twitch, and its creators for regularly using copyrightable music on streams. This led to many channel strikes, and necessary Twitch action in deleting a large amount of past VoDs. It also sued Roblox for $200m claiming copyright infringement.  

Luckily, these IP crackdowns did not change the way the music industry itself views the gaming world. The NMPA announced agreements with both Twitch and Roblox in 2021 – and more has been happening every week on an industry-wide level.

Just in the past two years, Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande have all appeared in the Fortnite metaverse via in-game concerts to millions of spectators and players. Popstar Lil Nas X joined the wave and made an appearance himself in Roblox. DJ Zedd is an avid gamer and himself appreciates the power of the gaming audience. Zedd has collaborated with Overwatch and Valorant in recent years through creating in-game cosmetics as well as engineering and producing the sounds these Zedd-branded cosmetics make.

Blockworks is an agency that creates experiences within Minecraft for gamers and also helps brands reach this audience through in-game activations. Melon, a company focused on the different metaverses, is focused on achieving the same but with Roblox. These companies collab with innovators such as AudioMob to ensure that audio adverts running in games are placed at suitable times for gamers in a way that adds value to the gaming experience rather than disrupting it.

How about audio companies themselves? Sennheiser, JBL, Beyerdynamic and other audiophile brands have gotten involved in gaming through different measures. Sennheiser and JBL now offer gaming-headset lines as well as specific premium headphones that are targeted at gamers. JBL sponsors gaming influencers regularly and hosts tournaments involving them.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been the subject of much fascination and speculation, sparking debates about its potential impact on society. Is AI destined to be a force for good or evil? For me, the answer lies not in the technology itself, but in the hands of its creators: humans. Just like humans, AI systems will inherently embody both positive and negative aspects. It is essential to recognise this duality and navigate the grey area as we embrace the transformative power of AI.

This is because AI is, in its essence, a product of human ingenuity. It is crafted through the lens of human perspectives, principles, and experiences. The rules, programmes, and algorithms that drive AI are designed by humans, reflecting their understanding of the world. As a result, AI inherits the qualities, biases, and limitations of its creators. And just as humanity is a tapestry of virtues and flaws, AI too will exhibit a mix of positive and negative traits. The potential for AI to bring about tremendous benefits is undeniable. It can revolutionise industries, improve efficiency, enhance decision-making, and tackle complex problems. AI’s ability to process vast amounts of data with incredible speed offers opportunities for scientific discoveries, medical breakthroughs, and environmental sustainability.

However, the shadow side of AI must also be acknowledged. The same technology that empowers AI can also be misused or weaponised. Ethical concerns arise when AI is employed for malicious purposes, invading privacy, perpetuating discrimination, or manipulating public opinion. Bias, both implicit and explicit, can find its way into AI algorithms, leading to unfair outcomes and exacerbating social inequalities.

The dual nature of AI mirrors the natural balance present in the universe. The interplay between positive and negative forces fosters equilibrium. Similarly, acknowledging the potential for both good and bad AI allows us to approach its development and deployment with caution and responsibility.

As to how we can ensure an overall positive AI trajectory, the obvious answer is establishing a sound ethical framework and regulatory measures. Collaboration between technologists, ethicists, policymakers, and the wider society is vital in shaping AI systems that align with our shared values. Transparency, accountability, and fairness should be at the core of AI development, ensuring that AI benefits all of humanity rather than serving only a select few.

However, we must consider that perhaps the ultimate path that AI takes is intricately linked to how we, as human beings, proceed forward. If we choose to embrace more goodness, love, fairness, and if we strive to become more ethical, empathetic, and environmentally conscious as a species, then maybe AI will adopt a similar complementary role alongside us. The trajectory of AI is deeply intertwined with our collective values and actions.

By fostering a culture of compassion, empathy, and respect, we can guide the development and deployment of AI towards serving the greater good. Nurturing an environment that prioritises fairness, inclusivity, and social justice will shape the future of AI in a positive direction. As we evolve as a society, we have the opportunity to instill these values within AI systems, ensuring they align with our aspirations for a better world.

Therefore, the responsibility lies not only with AI developers and policymakers but with all of humanity. We must actively engage in conversations, debates, and collaborations that steer AI towards enhancing our shared well-being. As we make ethical choices in our everyday lives, advocate for social progress, and promote sustainable practices, we lay the foundation for AI to complement and amplify our positive efforts.

In this symbiotic relationship between humans and AI, our collective actions become the guiding force. By embracing the principles of fairness, love, and compassion, we can influence the trajectory of AI, shaping it as a force that uplifts humanity rather than diminish it.

I’ve said before that, in order to compete with AI, we must become more human. I now think that maybe we should not look at AI as something to compete with, but rather something to live alongside with and instill human values in it. Maybe we can remove the artificial altogether and make it more human.   

How can I use the metaverse for my brand? How will this new digital universe transform the customer experience? And what exactly does the term ‘metaverse’ even mean? Strategy expert Eva Lihotzky provides an overview and four recommendations for action for brands.

It was Neal Stephenson who coined the term ‘metaverse’ in his breakthrough sci-fi novel ‘Snow Crash’ back in 1992. His visionary story is about a pizza delivery guy who, as a hacker, roams an immersive, virtual world by night. Thirty years later, the idea of a three-dimensional, immersive online environment where people interact with each other in real time and can create, buy and sell things is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi novels. The potential of social and commercial interactions in a virtualised setting is huge, and investments in technologies and newly created virtual spaces have increased significantly over the past few years. After all, technologists, companies and investors already believe that the metaverse will become a stage of the future and therefore a huge source of revenue. A study by financial service provider Citigroup confirms this: the possible business potential of virtual worlds is expected to reach up to 13 billion US dollars by the year 2030.

The metaverse – more than just a singular space

But what is the metaverse exactly? As well as 173,000,000 hits, my first Google search brings up various definitions. However, most of them have one thing in common: they understand the term ‘metaverse’ to mean more than just a single technology or end state. Rather, they refer to the convergence of several separate technologies, which in the coming years will all gradually reach market maturity – and therefore pave the way for the Web3 era. As well as the increasing use of blockchain and interactive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), the focus is on Internet of Things (IoT) applications (such as the use of sensors and network communication solutions), computing technology (like 5G and 6G networks) and cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and gaming technologies.

Virtual spaces are resulting in new meeting places

The smart combination of these technologies can create the experience of an immersive, three-dimensional environment where consumers can interact with one another, with a particular company and with its individual surroundings as if they were together in the same room. In the future, this space can have several attributes. First of all, we can assume that both the physical and the digital-virtual worlds will be integrated into the user experience and merge into one. Secondly, reactions and social interactions are enabled there, meaning that there is an ongoing exchange between the consumers, companies, influencers and their avatars. Thirdly, creativity, product definition and product optimisation will be boundless in the space and, ideally, will also be interoperable between individual spaces, resulting in entirely new contact opportunities, communication channels and business models. Fourthly, virtual spaces are available at all times and can be defined and shaped by the users themselves.

Next-level customer experiences

As a result, real-time communication and personalisation will become an even more important differentiating feature for companies that enter into a dialogue with their consumers in the metaverse. This is why the concept of the customer experience needs to be rethought, extended and the communication and interaction speed of brands needs to be raised to the next level. Because as well as the existing touchpoints that companies continue to use when communicating with their customers, there are now touchpoints in the metaverse or virtual spaces to consider as well. This will lead to many new interaction points that companies should take on board in their brand and communication strategy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Metaverse Experiences

Brands are therefore advised to follow these four recommended courses of action:

  1. Identify metaverse potential and implement a long-term strategy
    Companies should determine the metaverse potential that is relevant for their business and incorporate a metaverse strategy into their existing communication and marketing strategies. These should be flexible enough to allow them to react quickly to ongoing technological advances and, in turn, to respond to changing customer requirements and behaviours.
  2. Incorporate relevant technologies flexibly and successively
    It is the aforementioned technologies that make virtual spaces possible in the first place. However, not all technologies are needed for every use case at the same time. Instead, companies will use different technology combinations at different touchpoints. This makes it all the more important to ensure we have the relevant technologies ready for use and can adapt them to customer behaviour along the customer journey. In the future, a diversified technology architecture that can be flexibly applied to the corresponding requirement will be crucial to a company’s success in the metaverse.
  3. Intensify consumer behaviour and emotions in virtual spaces
    A compelling customer experience will also remain a differentiating factor in the metaverse. This being the case, companies should concentrate on also creating consistent and engrossing experiences in virtual spaces that are able to maximise the benefits of immersivity and interactivity. By skilfully combining the relevant technologies – such as AR, sensors and online and offline combinations – brands can approach their consumers through new angles. They can also enable them to identify with products more through ‘tangible’ storytelling, thereby exerting a positive influence on purchasing behaviour and customer loyalty.
  4. Shift the focus onto trust, authenticity and responsibility
    Trust and security will come even more to the fore when defining the customer experience in these new virtual spaces. This is because it will only then be possible to gain acceptance of the newly created experiences that consumers will have with companies in their respective immersive interactions. The more the lines are blurred between the physical and virtual worlds of the consumers, the more important existing considerations – and concerns – relating to data protection, security, IP protection or accessibility will be. So it is up to companies themselves to take a responsible approach and make their products and services inclusive.

Brave new worlds

Technological advances and the resulting immersive spaces are changing the basis of physical and virtual interactions and the way they function. However, we are still a long way off a final definition of how the metaverse will develop further or which gradual developments and functionalities we can expect to see. Even though some of the technologies and building blocks are already in place, the full implementation of immersive, reactive and continuously expanding virtual worlds will take another few years. This is because many of the required technologies will still need time and remain dependent on the progress of other technologies before their capabilities and potential can be used on a wider scale. And even then, they will gradually develop further and set new benchmarks.

But trying to explain what life in the metaverse will be like in the future and how it will affect companies would be rather like asking someone back in 1990 to describe what would become of the internet one day. Perhaps we should just ask Neal Stephenson? After all, the way he envisaged the direction things would take 30 years later was pretty spot on.

This article first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the ninth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme „Speed! The Winning Factor in the Digital Age“. The e-paper is available here:

The metaverse is one of the most exciting – if not the most exciting – innovations in our high-speed digital world. What prospects do companies in different countries see in this new digital universe? And what opportunities are they already using for their brands? Inspiring and surprising insights from the Netherlands, the UAE and Poland.

The metaverse in the Netherlands: A breeding ground for experimentation

Author: Christiaan van Betuw, Managing Partner / Serviceplan Group Netherlands

The digital era in which we find ourselves is characterised by its speed. From small, technical updates that make our lives easier, to large-scale, impactful transitions. The metaverse inexorably belongs to the latter category: a completely new, digital world with other forms of communication and a more intensive digital experience. It is important for brands to explore, test and learn now. And the Dutch market is the place to be.

This is due to the behaviour of Dutch people. For years we’ve been one of the European leaders in digital development. The digital mindset of the Dutch is impressive. For example, 96% of Dutch households have internet and 87% are online every day. The Dutch are at the top of the table when it comes to using online services, such as internet banking, watching digital TV, shopping, and making online (video) calls. In addition, we are very receptive to – and active in – emerging sectors such as e-sports, (digital/hybrid) events and game development.[1]

In 2021, the Netherlands were characterised by the European Union as a “Strong Innovator” in Europe: a country that scores well above average for its innovation efforts. In the period from 2016 to 2018, almost half of the companies in the Netherlands with more than 10 employees were innovative.[2] The advent of the metaverse has also stimulated and inspired the innovative nature of Dutch companies to push things forward.

In addition to a receptive test group and an innovative workforce, the Netherlands – home to ‘only’ 17 million people – offers a clear market and a relatively cheap environment to experiment with the metaverse. And that is already happening on a large scale.

Dutch brands are pioneering the metaverse

More and more brands are testing the power of communication in the metaverse and offering consumers a unique brand experience. Heineken brought – albeit with a hint of fun-poking irony – the physical and digital world together with the launch of the world’s first virtual beer ‘Heineken Silver’ in Decentraland, as well as in the physical world. In doing so, the brand cleverly uses the Heineken experience in the metaverse, but with the clear message that it is still better to drink a beer in the ‘real’ world.[3]

Dutch fashion brand Barki has launched an NFT design but also makes a physical edition of each NFT. The brand states that this prevents the physical T-shirt from depreciating in value and eventually being thrown away. By linking the physical product to the NFT, it retains its value.[4] The same applies to Subway and Lay’s who, in collaboration with fashion brand XPLCT, developed an eye-catching jacket that made avatars in Decentraland look completely on brand. Five unique NFTs were developed, one of which was auctioned, raising €6,000 in proceeds.

It is striking that a ‘phygital’ approach is still often chosen, where brands experiment within the metaverse but also link the physical world to it at the same time. In the near future, the latter will become less so, partly due to companies that focus on full use of the metaverse, such as Dutch initiative Odyssey, which builds interoperable tools for metaverse users.[5]

A long-term goal for the brand in Web 3.0

At the rate the metaverse is evolving, a sustainable marketing effort – one that builds for the future – is an absolute must. And experimentation is inextricably linked to this. I am sure that in a world where everything is faster and grander than ever before, the marketer who dares to make a plan for 2027 will ultimately work for the brand that shapes the market rather than merely following it. That’s especially true when it comes to building a brand in Web 3.0. Let everything you do now contribute to that snowball that defines this future of the brand. The Netherlands look forward to welcoming you.






The UAE – a place of metaverse leadership

Author: Helmi Abdalhadi, House of Gaming Manager / Serviceplan Middle East

I recall a conversation with a friend a few years back when we were discussing cryptocurrencies. He mentioned that withdrawing assets in bits and pieces helped avoid German regulatory tax on the crypto-turned-cash. I remember instantly thinking, especially given my regulatory law education, that it was innovative and risk-averse of the German government to be ahead of new technology by putting these laws in place early. I now live in a part of the world where government activities and initiatives are central to the economy and its industries’ activities. The United Arab Emirates government has taken steps, measures and regulations further than most countries in the world to put itself in a position to both lead Web 3.0 and metaverse conversations, as well as enable its native businesses. However, even before regulations, it has made it part of its DNA.

In the second quarter of 2018, the UAE government announced and launched an initiative that “aims to capitalise on the blockchain technology to transform 50% of government transactions into the blockchain platform by 2021”. The Emirates blockchain strategy had a simple goal: to use the secure technology to be much more efficient in day-to-day activities. By giving each transaction and customer a unique identification number that is part of the blockchain ledger, the government aimed to save 400 million printed documents and 77 million work hours annually, as well as almost $3 billion by 2021.

Regulations usually imply a negative connotation for new technology. This is not the case for the metaverses’ main method of payment – cryptocurrencies – in the UAE. Dubai and Abu Dhabi both passed laws in 2021 and 2022 that make it not only easier to use cryptocurrency to make payments for daily purchases, but also possible for crypto exchanges to operate from and within the two Emirates. According to Reuters, over 30 licences have been issued to crypto exchanges to set up shop – including the biggest of the bunch: FTX, Binance and Kraken. As an example, Binance are currently hiring for over 100 positions in the UAE region.

But being ahead of new technology doesn’t just mean regulating and managing. It is also about enabling and building a healthy ecosystem around the industry.

Dubai recently created a committee whose purpose is to build a metaverse strategy for the Emirate. Whether through commerce and shopping, meeting places and social areas, games or learning environments, the committee announced that it will be supporting 42,000 virtual jobs in order to add $4 billion to the country’s GDP by 2030. Resource allocation towards the virtual world, as well as enabling new businesses are key pillars of the Dubai metaverse committee.

In the meantime, Abu Dhabi has pushed for diversity in the male-dominated industry via its Abu Dhabi investment office. ADIO is making it easier for women to be entrepreneurial in the metaverse and Web 3.0 space by giving them free crypto and metaverse domains. This has proven successful. Over 50% of small to medium businesses in this industry in Abu Dhabi were founded by women.

These laws and initiatives have put the UAE in a place of metaverse leadership. They have not only enabled the growth of related start-ups, but also incentivised legacy brands to get involved. At Serviceplan Middle East, we were approached by our client BMW within the past year with a view to taking advantage of the local Web 3.0 facilitation. We created an NFT project called BMW Museum of Sounds, storing and displaying the roars of retired BMW M engines via NFTs. And we won multiple awards and nominations for our efforts.

Regulating technology is not easy and regions that fail to act usually fall behind – but by pushing regulations and encouraging innovation, the UAE are in no danger of making this mistake.

­The metaverse in Poland

Author: Tomasz Przeździecki, Chief Executive Officer / _game changer

It’s a popular phenomenon that millions of Poles are already into. But do they really know about it? Many years of experience clearly show us that games are the best canvas for developing the metaverse and technology in the form of VR and AR. Back in 2017, we carried out activities for our clients (Subway and Coca Cola) in Minecraft, which we can now classify as metaverse projects. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg!

The concept of the metaverse is one and the same for all – virtual, open, interactive, 3D worlds where players/users can socialise. However, right now there are dozens of different platforms – Roblox, Decentraland, Wave, Ceek, Zepeto, RECRoom, etc. In a few years’ time, we will be seeing global consolidations. Will Facebook, Amazon, or perhaps a new player be leading the market?

For the past few years, it has been a well-known fact that popular games like Minecraft or Roblox are classified as centralised metaverse platforms.

However, the real, futuristic metaverse using Web 3.0 ideology – based on blockchain tech – is considered decentralised. Right now, the key players among those metaverse platforms are Decentraland and Sandbox. Those are the best platforms within Web 3.0, where you can read, write, create and OWN! Where you can purchase land, build your business and possibly make money. And also where you can create art and sell it. But bear in mind that they are still in their infancy, both globally and locally.

The users of the metaverse originating from games like Roblox, Minecraft or Fortnite are younger, usually between 10 and 20 years old. Those who are aware of Web 3.0 are mainly aged 20+.

However, everyone can refer to themselves as users of the metaverse. We should remember not to look at the metaverse only through the prism of games, as this can be harmful. We think along the lines of: “A game can be a metaverse, but the metaverse does not have to be a game”.

Perspective of a Polish metaverse user

Based on the first Polish report on metaverse users in Poland (conducted by the Gameset gaming and metaverse marketing agency), we know that:

  1. 4.3 million Poles perceive themselves as aware users of the metaverse in Poland.
  2. 7.1 million Poles do not participate in the metaverse but would like to.
  3. 29% of respondents stated that they do not want to be in the metaverse. However, most of them (51%) were between 46 and 66 years old. They consider it a waste of time and prefer other types of leisure activity instead.

Among the most attractive aspects of the metaverse, respondents indicated:

  1. The opportunity to meet with friends (83%)
  2. The chance to meet new people (81%)
  3. The possibility of creating new things in this world such as “clothes, art, games” (81%)
  4. The opportunity to look the way you want to (79%)

The top four metaverse platforms indicated by respondents are games:

Minecraft – 83%
Roblox – 66%
GTA Online – 63%
Fortnite – 63%

Roblox in Poland has over two million monthly active users!

So where is Decentraland or Sandbox? Very much on the sidelines – for the moment! So far, they generate around half a million monthly active users globally. We estimate that only 3% of them are Polish users. In the future, that is likely to change in favour of decentralised platforms (once the awareness and education of blockchain increases).

What about brands in the metaverse?

  • 32% of respondents aged between 10 and 55 years old say they would welcome the presence of brands in the metaverse, while 41% say “it depends”.
  • 47% of respondents say they have discovered new brands or services through the metaverse.
  • 39% say they would be willing to buy an offline product from a brand they have interacted with in the metaverse.
  • 43% of respondents expect their favourite brands to be represented in the virtual world.

To sum this up:
YES – your brand should also be represented in the metaverse!
YES – you need to do this as soon as possible, as long as it’s relatively easy, cheap and there’s no clutter.
YES – your target group is already there and it’s just a matter of months until everything is happening on a much larger scale, but will you be able to afford it by then?

That’s why _game changer was created – because it changes the rules of gaming in marketing and communication and is the answer to marketers’ needs for activities in trending channels.

The kind of world you create for your brand depends mostly on the technology and platform you choose. In Poland and around the world, most activities right now are centred around Roblox, Decentraland and Sandbox, so you’d be well advised to focus on those!

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. Read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the ninth issue under the central theme “Speed! The Winning Factor in the Digital Age“:

The world seems to be getting more complex by the day. We are being forced to respond faster and faster to avoid missing the boat and to secure our market position. How does a public broadcasting company cope with this ever-changing environment? And how is speed becoming a success factor here? Barbara Evans in conversation with Dr Florian Kumb, Head of Programme Planning at ZDF.

BARBARA EVANS: Are you a fan of speed, Dr Kumb?

FLORIAN KUMB: Absolutely! Whenever something is done under extreme time pressure, the motivation is even greater. Even though speed is not an end in itself, it is essential for success in the dynamic media world. For example, speed is now a central success factor when using new technology and in the development times of programme innovations. A good example of this is the fictional TV show ‘Himmel und Erde’ (Heaven and Earth), which examines the war in Ukraine in five stories, focusing on the political situation in the months that preceded it.

Looking at the other extreme: in which areas do you see speed as being of least importance?

FK: In many areas of journalism in particular, both speed and precision are important. If we change our programming because of breaking news, the information needs to be absolutely accurate. Helping people make sense of events is a real challenge if a situation is not clear. And with investigative journalism, thoroughness is much more important than speed. Leaving aside programming, precision is also the top priority when dealing with compliance issues, budget controlling, etc.

Do you see the speed question as being a short-lived phenomenon or one that is here to stay?

FK: User expectations are changing faster than they used to. And we need to respond to this more quickly with our programming content. Constant change is the new normal. I very much doubt that everything is going to return to easily manageable and stable time frames.

In which areas do you feel the greatest need for speed at ZDF?

FK: There was always a great need for speed when reporting the latest news, so that’s nothing new for us – and our colleagues are experts in dealing with breaking news situations. But there is growing pressure on development times in other programming genres as well. The world is changing so quickly that ideas need to be implemented in less time. However, the need for speed has increased mainly in strategic work and non-linear distribution. To achieve our aim of providing ‘a ZDF for everyone’, we need to be very adaptable and highly dynamic in our actions and reactions.

What exactly is ZDF doing to equip itself for this future?

FK: This might sound strange, but the first thing we need to do is increase the complexity because there are no simple answers to complex challenges. For example, we have brought together three areas – communication, digital media and programme planning – that were all under different management at various points within the hierarchy logic. We defined joint processes and task fields such as 360° planning, brand/design or AI in distribution, for which we are now jointly responsible. This increases the need for coordination and lays bare any conflicts regarding roles and resources. However, we all acknowledge that no one area can solve the problems on its own – for me, this paves the way for a successful working relationship in the future.

Will there be any changes in the way you share data internally?

FK: I’m in favour of a complete democratisation of data and, at the same time, a clear framework that provides guidance in this data jungle. We are currently in the process of making all data available for everyone internally. After all, it’s possible for all of our colleagues to learn from findings about formats outside their scope of responsibility. It’s a real mindset change. Another recent addition is the ZDF KOMPASS – an integral ‘compass’ that allows us to manage all relevant performance indicators relating to usage, quality, impact and acceptance of our public broadcasting programming. This tool sets priorities and helps provide clarity in the complex media world.

Do you use AI? And if so, is it easy to reconcile this with your company’s public broadcasting remit?

FK: AI is of central importance for us, for example in our planning work. We use AI both for the recommendation system in our ZDFmediathek and for linear planning, e.g. ZDFinfo. Here, the machine suggests shows for users to watch next or which shows should be scheduled back-to-back. It’s important for the underlying algorithm to have a public broadcasting character. Our aim is not to make money by tying viewers to us with the same kind of content again and again – we have other aims, such as presenting people with new or unexpected content. The data helps us to find out how we can do that.

What has been your experience so far?

FK: Our first experiences have been very good. The diversity of recommendations in the ZDFmediathek increased substantially – more different programmes are now being recommended than was the case when we curated them manually. Obviously, planners can’t be equally aware of all titles. Using AI in linear programming has been so effective that we are now working on expanding it to other broadcasters and broadcasting streams. Also thanks to AI, ZDFinfo has established itself as the most successful linear information broadcaster by far – including among younger target groups.

What impact does this have on the broadcaster’s programming and brand communication?

FK:It doesn’t have any impact at all on the strategic work regarding content profile, brand communication and the development potential of the broadcasting method. Real people are still responsible for journalistic and creative output. AI ensures that they have enough time, because it relieves a lot of the burden in their operational planning work and distribution.

Do you see any particular opportunities or challenges here for ZDF as a public broadcaster?

FK: There are many areas where we need to find new public broadcasting approaches for digital. Take, for example, the expectations regarding user experience. For this, we need to know people’s exact needs. But this is a challenge if we also want to comply with the highest data protection standards. However, our greatest privilege is to be able to implement ideas and projects irrespective of their short-term commercial viability. At the same time, commercial pressure is especially high at the moment: investment decisions are particularly difficult when costs are rising but our income is staying the same. Especially when the investments only pay off in the long term.

When you are developing new ideas, do you look first and foremost within the German-speaking markets, or do you seek inspiration in concepts and ideas from other countries.

FK: Both, but I can’t understand why there is so much of a focus on the USA in our sector. Smaller markets are much more dynamic, particularly when they have a progressive approach to technology. Personally, I find the Scandinavian, Swiss and Israeli markets really interesting. We are in the process of working together with a Danish start-up that is well on the way to solving one of our data problems relating to diversity.

Do you think that German-speaking countries are getting faster in their decision-making and actions?

FK:Germans are often said to be passionate naysayers. At the same time, we like the image of an inventor type who plays around with lots of different ideas and then comes up with compelling solutions. I think the generational shift in companies is a great opportunity to speed things up. The older generation needs to pass on their traditional ‘engineering virtues’ to the younger generation while allowing them to dictate the pace. ‘Fail fast’ is not a new strategy – that was around during the years of rapid industrial expansion in Germany in the mid-19th century. We need to give this more space again.

Findings published by market research company GfK have shown that companies that act faster are more successful. We conducted our own research project about how companies use real-time data, network between various company areas, individualise communication and content, etc. Here, we found that not enough is happening in around two thirds of companies. What advice would you give to decision-makers about ‘speeding things up’?

FK: It’s necessary and it’s hard going, particularly at the beginning. But it’s less about making radical underlying decisions than having a clear vision and lots of elaborate fine-tuning in processes. There’s no way around it. But once top management has set the ball in motion, employees and managers alike will realise that and things will speed up. My recommendation would be to look first at a small number of the company’s core and supporting processes and subject them to an end-to-end examination – even if this is a complex undertaking. For this, companies need to set up and authorise a small internal project team with good people. But I wouldn’t advise using external consultants for this.

Thank you for talking to us!

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the ninth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme „Speed! The Winning Factor in the Digital Age“. The e-paper is available here:

“Particularly for younger generations, forwards is the new up”, says Dr Jens Thiemer, Senior Vice President Customer & Brand BMW at the BMW Group. But how fast do brands these days actually have to be if they want to be among the best – and when should they take their foot off the gas? Wolf Ingomar Faecks, Managing Partner of the Serviceplan Group, sat down for an interview with Dr Jens Thiemer to find out.

WOLF INGOMAR FAECKS: Does the “higher, faster, further” principle still apply today?

JENS THIEMER: Status thinking in society is changing, that is something we are seeing more and more. Particularly for younger generations, forwards is the new up. This means that we are seeing a trend away from social climbers and towards social drivers – who want to give something back to the world and who see themselves as part of a society with a shared sense of purpose. So BMW is no longer just about being the best in the world but also the best for the world. We move people, touch hearts and inspire minds. That is how we see our leading role.

Is the ‘fear of missing out’ – FOMO for short – something that should make me throw caution to the wind in a digitalisation context? 

JT: When it comes to digitalisation, we need to be curious and attentive – but not necessarily cautious or conservative. As much as digitalisation propels us forward, it also creates many rewarding challenges, but, in some cases, risks as well. Hacker attacks, data theft and data misuse reached an all-time high during the coronavirus pandemic. Here at BMW, all data is treated with maximum care and confidentiality. And as far as FOMO is concerned: we encounter new hypes and trends in a digitalisation context on a daily basis. People should always ask themselves why they seem to be suffering from FOMO. What exactly could they be missing out on? Have they already understood it completely? What role does it play for other decisions? And then they should carefully weigh up whether they should join in.

How do you decide if something is just hype or a real trend that needs to be followed?

JT: First of all, we analyse very thoroughly – across all sectors – where a movement stems from, which environment it emerges in and who is the first to latch onto it. Many ‘hypes’ are already eliminated at that point because they don’t align with our company orientation and strategy. If a hype offers potential for a brand, you should see how quickly it develops into a more stable trend and how fast other players jump on the bandwagon. And you shouldn’t be afraid that the trend will break or flop. That can happen. Two years ago, the Clubhouse app was an example of us being active relatively early on here in Germany – simply because the platform had great potential for becoming a trend. Many high-profile personalities were on board from the outset. As we have seen, the trend didn’t last as long as expected or perhaps it just still needs more time. In this case, you have to respond so that you don’t use resources unnecessarily.

Speed is a key success factor today but is it also relevant for the sales model, innovations and customer centricity?

JT: Speed has a certain relevance for our processes because they force us to reduce them to the bare bones and avoid any unnecessary elements. Otherwise, you’re just not fast enough. Perhaps you could weigh up the importance of speed in these processes. With innovations, speed is the key factor for staying ahead of the pack. If you’re fast, you’ll set the pace for an entire industry. In the context of a sales model, speed is also growing in importance from a customer perspective: transactions are required everywhere and customers expect them to be simple, short and smooth. By contrast, customer centricity is initially an attitude that calls for certain conditions and that needs to be fleshed out with data in order to gear processes to them optimally. This is only indirectly related to speed. However, you should not underestimate the mindset shift that needs to take place within a company for it to have genuine customer orientation. This takes time and needs to be put into practice constantly and exemplarily.

What risks and advantages does speed have in a company – and also on the roads?

JT: BMW drivers enjoy putting their foot to the floor every now and then. But only if the situation permits high speeds, of course – and with the aid of all kinds of technically conceivable driver assistance systems. But the fun in driving a BMW is not down to the speed itself – drivers and their passengers also enjoy cruising at moderate speeds. In a company, speed allows you to attain competitive advantages faster than others, but also harbours the risk of being inaccurate and making mistakes. But that’s something you just have to take in your stride.

Is speed one of BMW’s corporate goals?

JT: Speed is not an end in itself. It resonates in everything we do as a matter of course. We speed up our processes, avoid anything unnecessary and set clear priorities. This affects in particular our development process, our innovation speed throughout the entire company and our internal decision-making processes. So with that in mind, our goals can definitely be said to boost speed indirectly.

Does speed conflict with your other company objectives?

JT: These things go hand in hand. Some need to be done very quickly, while others need time to grow. That doesn’t mean they are conflicting, though, but evaluated differently depending on the objective.

What do you see as being the three main things that prevent speed?

JT: Long discussion and decision-making channels. Fundamental risk aversion. People failing to look beyond their immediate surroundings in a bold, reflective way.

How can BMW step up the pace against automotive disruptors like Tesla and Nio that have a D2C sales model?

JT: In the automotive industry, there are now many young, fast companies that are willing to take risks and have hardly any structures in place at all. This allows flexibility and room for experimenting and exploring entirely new ground. BMW is a group that has more than 100 years of experience. Here, decisions sometimes take longer to make but we have demonstrated in the past that these were often the right decisions. And we will stick to this course: long-term, customer-oriented thinking with a technological focus – ‘tech magic’ and ‘human-centric’. However, the competition is continually urging us to be even faster, even more resolute and to make even more of an impact.

Is D2C the only way forward? 

JT: As well as improving the customer experience again, direct sales have many other advantages, of course. In particular the direct access to customers and omnichannel, i.e. the ability to facilitate transactions at any sales touchpoint, digital or physical. As well as this, there is a non-negotiable fixed fair price for products so that customers no longer have to look for discounts and special offers, which is simply no longer feasible for a premium product these days. In this way, we will also reach our ambitious goal of having 25% online sales by 2025. We are doing this together with our strong dealership network, which has been involved in the process from the outset. That is how we want to move forward. But of course even a conventional wholesale model can be optimised digitally. Constantly improving processes and achieving better results are the important factor here.

By claiming not to “do sustainability at BMW” but rather to “make BMW sustainable”, the company has a strong ethos when it comes to sustainability. Does this approach need more speed than before?

JT: First and foremost, this approach needs transparency and trust. Sustainability is an area that requires a lot of substance and even more resoluteness. And it also needs lots of communication and explanation, both internally and externally. Superficiality must be avoided at all costs or you will lose credibility. In many cases, loss of credibility comes from companies communicating too much too quickly and then not being able to deliver on it. This is why it’s much more about honesty than speed. How is a company faring with its sustainability efforts? What have we already done and what have we not been able to do? The ideal here is to do what is technologically possible at any given time. And every now and then, to point to the lofty heights we are aiming for in the future. Our BMW i Vision Circular shows here how wide-ranging and resolute our thinking is when it comes to sustainable and, above all, circular mobility. It conveys our aspiration to be the pioneers in developing a circular economy. We deliberately said: “This is our vision for 2040 and that’s where we are actively headed.” Of course, it stands to reason that we still have to work relatively quickly on sustainable solutions during this journey. Even though the steps there still appear too small, someone needs to take the lead.

Are speedboats useful as pilot projects before the regulatory process is changed?

JT: A speedboat (or small-scale project) is an excellent way to explore changes on a small scale to begin with and gauge the effects. This cuts down on both time and stress. It is much easier to adapt individual parameters far more quickly and to set the slider so that it is suitable for the entire process at the end. However, it needs to go beyond the pilot project stage. I’m a great advocate of scaling and transitioning quickly into full size.

Is the speed just as fast in different verticals? 

JT: No, it’s not. And I find that normal as well. Whoever is faster should run ahead. A simultaneous end-to-end responsibility across all vertical streams will then gradually allow everything to sync up. In this way, we create common reference points and ensure that each stream delivers the right thing at the right time. That is the basis for any real customer orientation: everyone knows automatically what they have to do at any given point in time.

What role does speed play in the new performance marketing agency model tailored specially to BMW?

JT: One of the main reasons for implementing the new performance marketing agency model was definitely to increase the speed with which we engage in relevant communication with our customers and offer them our products and services. By significantly reducing the number of agencies and creating a customised solution for our activities all over Europe, we have improved our options here. The Marcom Engine construct is geared towards inherently holistic performance marketing, which generates genuine business impact in a data-based and customer-centric way and produces the best customer experience in our category. The increasing automation and digitalisation of our work processes will be instrumental in increasing speed. Needless to say, the changeover involves a lot of work and, at the beginning, will actually slow down the pace until the transition to the new set-up is complete. The transformation process – i.e. the changed work processes – also requires more management capacity and time to begin with. But we are already seeing enormous synergy effects and efficiencies and, at the same time, a high level of innovation, which makes our customer communication and interaction faster and better.

What kind of risk management is used here?

JT: This change requires us to operate on two fronts simultaneously. While we are working on the transformation, we are also focusing on our current core processes and ensuring that they continue to work smoothly and that we deliver the same high quality as always. A proper planning process and a well thought-out transition plan ensure that the change will be smooth and that there will be a proper handover. At the same time, this is the best risk management.

Are transformation processes slowing down the sales process?

JT: I have no doubt that they help to initiate transformation processes and organisational adjustments. However, in large corporate groups, this often happens at different times. At all the various levels of sales, people need to be won over, processes changed and the organisational structure optimised. The time offset sometimes causes problems in the system, meaning that the new unknown element has to make room for itself first. Pilot projects or support from individual markets can help here. In many cases, external impetus from new competitors or other sectors is needed to set internal change processes in motion, helping us to evolve and optimise our business. You also need to be able to ride this out if necessary. Of course, this calls for a well coordinated transformation and the right communication within the company.

Thank you for talking to us!

This interview first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. Read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the ninth issue under the central theme “Speed! The Winning Factor in the Digital Age“:

Last recap daily for SXSW 2023 with a couple of great sessions on marketing and pretty pictures from space! Usually, Tuesdays at SXSW see the attendance for the interactive tracks going down, with the music tracks and showcases ramping up – not so this year, every session we attended was completely packed.

I think SXSW will be very, very happy with the attendance this year, after the dramatic decrease of visitors in 2022. At times it felt like the crazy days of 2018 and 2019, it casts a positive outlook on the coming years. More attendees mean more attention from high profile speakers, visitors and brands what keeps the conference as relevant as it is. I think that’s worth the queue times. 

The future of marketing is all about convergence

The day started with a session full of high-profile marketeers on the biggest stage. Conny Braams from Unilever, Jeremi Gorman from Netflix and Tim Mapes from Delta Airlines discussed current trends and developments in marketing strategies for the FCMG, entertainment and service industry. 

I already mentioned in previous recaps this year that convergence was a big meta trend in many fields, with the most interesting things happening at the intersections of different areas. It’s the same in marketing. Conny Braams stated that the way forward for not only FMCG brands was the increased integration between branding, performance and sales. Tackling the challenge of combining brand building while also driving conversion at the same time was the #1 task for marketers and agencies. Unilever’s internal structure already reflects this with a combination of previously separated teams now all working together for the common goal, going as far as adjusting product design for this new reality. 

Tim Mapes from Delta even went one step further – for him, every Delta employee is a brand ambassador and potential brand touchpoint. For Delta, generating first party data through their frequent flyer program with its corresponding app is one central pillar of this strategy – the other one: making the data available to customer facing roles, so consumer facing staff can use it to deliver more authentic and informed interactions with each individual traveller. 

Another big topic of discussion was the rise of retail media: for Unilever retail media is a perfect tool to control the elusive last mile at the store where crucial purchase decisions actually happen – that was previously controlled exclusively by retailers. Digital retail and retail media let’s the brands take much more control here – assuming the interactions with consumers are not purely transactional, but creative and entertaining and brands get access to the data generated. Again, convergence is key for future marketing. 

The five laws of brand science 

My second session of the day was a highly interactive and entertaining talk by Ethan Decker from Applied Brand Science. In his presentation, Decker went over five laws of brand science, that marketers should be aware of – backed by years of research and data. 

He offered an interesting way on how marketers laud customer loyalty as the pinnacle of marketing – despite the fact, that most consumers, for most categories, will buy a repertoire of brands and the more someone buys from a category, the bigger that repertoire gets. For many verticals, it also makes little sense to chase deep consumer connection, because people simply don’t care what their e.g. toilet paper brand of choice does on social media or what their brand purpose might be. 

Decker stated that shoppers are “mental misers”: the average consumer simply is too lazy to deal with hard and complicated questions when making a purchase decision and suggested that marketers should focus on the easy questions shoppers are asking themselves when buying from a category. 

Additionally, when it comes to light / medium / heavy buyers, the curve for almost all brands looks like a banana. High amount of single time / low frequency buyers, very few medium and heavy buyers – negative binomial distribution, or simply: the good old long tail. For growth, market penetration is 5 to 15 times more important than buying frequency according to a study conducted by Bain & Company, so marketing should focus on that lever first. 

Advanced Space Photography 

One thing to love SXSW for: they don’t shy away from giving keynote spots on the biggest stage to topics most of us know very little about. In this case: NASA and an all-female panel of astrophysicists sharing insights on the first few months of operating the James Webb Space Telescope. In addition to showing some of the mind-blowing pictures taken by the JWST in recent months, the panel discussed the massive effort of international collaboration between 14 countries to make this happen, the scientific breakthroughs this already led to and their deep-rooted love for discovery and human curiosity. 

Advertising’s guilty secret

SXSW is a great spot for inspiration and creating new food for thought from various disciplines. But at the end of the day we are still advertisers, so it’s always refreshing to see sessions that speak the truth about our day-to-day work. Today, Welsh advertising expert and CEO of Creature London, Dan Cullen-Shute together with Ivonne Kinder from Avocados from Mexico, gave us exactly that: A critical look at what the advertising business has morphed into, at least at award shows. Looking at the recent Cannes Lion Grand Prix winners, 90% of them were purpose-driven, which of course is a honorable messaging and there’s nothing wrong with that, but often these great award ideas either never reach a broader audience outside or aren’t linked to an equally good media strategy.

Dan spoke many truths today: Advertising is brilliant. We can make things that have genuine cultural touchpoints, boost the economy in needed areas, spark happiness and connect communities. The cherry on top: There are not many other jobs where the level of seriousness and ridiculousness can be the same. It should always be our mission to leave the industry better than we found it, in one way or another, so let’s get back to that: Make people laugh again, create epic things, even be totally ridiculous if appropriate. Get back to the heart of what we do and love – creating awesome stuff that makes brands grow and touches the hearts of our audiences. 

Random observations from Day 5:

  • Props to the SXSW organizers for enabling encore sessions for popular talks – and double props to the speakers of being just as engaging in round 2. 
  • It’s surprisingly hard to find good filming locations at SXSW – unless you want to give your video interview on the latest trends in tech & marketing strong 80s Dallas vibes – as the main color scheme of every conference hotel is beige, even the one built in 2017. 
  • I don’t know if it’s the overall inflation, the fact that Austin has been attracting thousands of highly paid tech workers in recent years or simply SXSW price gauging – but getting food is making your credit card bleed. 

When dealing with innovation – and that word gets thrown around a lot at conferences like SXSW – you need a certain level of resilience towards frustration. Most people, when being confronted with something new, tend to be dismissive about it. Most innovations don’t have immediate world-changing effects. Nor personal relevance for everybody. And often they are hard to grasp and easily dismissed. Our fourth day of SXSW 2023 dealt with this topic in various ways. 

Will data privacy ruin digital advertising?

Yes, probably. If “ruin” means fundamental change, that is. In our first session of the day, Noor Naseer from Basis Technologies delivered an excellent talk on the current state of the effects of increased data privacy on digital advertising. A consumer base growing more conscious about how their data is being used, increased regulation and a changing media landscape will require marketers to rethink their digital advertising strategies. We all know the 3rd party cookie will go away and will cripple a lot of  tracking and attribution systems and targeting options. The big question the digital ad industry is concerned with: will we have viable alternatives by the time this ultimately happens and the answer is: probably, but not as a 1:1 replacement.

In her talk, Naseer laid out the importance of first party data usage, the use of permissible data sources & alternate identifiers, and a coherent tech-stack strategy for data management to keep digital advertising viable – with one downside: we won’t see exact 1:1 replacements for everything we got used to in the last 15 years, so a certain degree of flexibility will be needed. Dismissing any alternatives as non-viable, just because they aren’t exact replicas of the toolset we have today is something we will have to deal with. After all, it might change the future for the better – a digital advertising ecosystem that comes with more trust, user control and ultimately better results, even at the cost of higher friction. 

The slides are available for download here

The best storyteller at SXSW

In the afternoon I attended a particularly enjoyable session by Mike Bechtel, Chief Futurist at Deloitte. In his highly entertaining and insightful presentation titled “A Brief History of the Future”, he laid out the history and evolution of information technology along the three central pillars of computing: interaction, information, and computation. One of the key messages: futurism is all about pattern recognition. To adequately talk about the future, you need to understand the past – as emerging tech progression isn’t random, it follows enduring trajectories over and over again.

The main thesis: AI will turn into an ubiquitous, useful set of tools to make our lives easier – even if it isn’t always perfect. The future of computing lies in decentralized systems and the interfaces of today – screens – will look like anachronistic things of the past very soon, when the main interface will be voice controls and contextual automation. None of the technical aspects were of any surprise to me – in fact we have been talking about these topics for years. But Bechtel is an amazing speaker and turned this session into a masterclass in storytelling with a rare ability of explaining complex concepts with well picked examples and relatable analogies. Being able to learn from a true master in one’s own professional niche is what makes SXSW such a rewarding experience. 

Quick, Look East!

Web3, Metaverse and AI – are these the only hype topics of our decade? In today’s session, Tom Nixon, co-founder of Qumin and expert on Chinese digital marketing, threw in another contender for the mix: Social Commerce. In the West, the term often refers to the option of buying a product directly on the app, which is a feature that has been available on many platforms for years. Shoppable Social Ads do have merit for a couple of use cases, but this short-term opportunity to buy within the app should be treated with caution: The customer journey is not linear and not every purchase happens within that respective ecosystem. Looking at China though, Social Commerce can open up a whole new world of possibilities for brands to win the war for sales by including direct customer engagement. WeChat is a great example of an early-stage superapp that might be able to completely revolutionize this business model by offering a seamless costumer experience. 

China is pioneering in various promising fields, one of them being community group buying, where, for example, a village comes together to buy products in bulk from vendors for low prices. The process of buying is happening at the respective apps, while the organization between community members can be done literally anywhere else – from going door to door with pen and  paper to the magic allrounder WeChat. Another important touchpoint for Chinese brands are KOCs – Key Opinion Consumers. These are creators without huge followings that appear as trustful consumers instead of inauthentic influencers and help to validate the products they’re reviewing. From Metaverse experiences to virtual influencer, live shopping and gamification elements: The biggest learning the West can take in from China is the importance of immersive interactions, the aspiration to create something new and innovative, and the diversification of personalized services for the individual user. Taking into account cultural differences between China and the West, many approaches might not work for everyone, but they are no doubt intriguing opportunities worth exploring.

„Us“ Against The World

We’re celebrating a big birthday, because Reddit is turning 18 this year! Jen Wong, Chief Operating Officer of the world’s leading social news aggregation site, sat down with reporter Kerry Flynn to talk about the evolution of online communities. From the producer of the recent hit show „The Last Of Us“ speaking directly to fans about the ups and downs of the show to an award-winning cocktail bar owner that started his passion for fancy drinks on the subreddit r/cocktails 12 years ago: Reddit has always been about connecting communities and shared passions. While content on apps like Instagram is highly polished (some might say even fake) and follow a one-to-many approach, Reddit feels more like a many-to-many conversation that perfectly satisfies the desire for authenticity, which Gen-Z greatly appreciates. You want to get the real deal on product reviews, from real people that literally don’t gain anything (monetarily or influentially) from it other than the satisfaction of helping out others? Reddit is the place to be. Social clout means very little on the platform, it’s all about the idea itself. 

While agreeing with many statements from Jen, Reddit is not always the happy place it is often made out to be. With every social content platform comes the good, the bad and the ugly, and that’s also true for Reddit. There is a unique structure of governance within the community and the ability to flag and remove „bad behavior“, tons of of questionable content remains on the platform. 

Random observations from Day 4:

  • One thing I love about SXSW: people are on their best behavior. Nobody skips the long lines. The volunteers are cheerful and happy to help. Need a phone charger? Power adapter? Piece of gum? Directions? Someone will have your back, always. 
  • I’d love to understand the thought process of people standing in line for 30-45 minutes at Starbuck’s to spend $10 on mediocre coffee. I’d rather stand in line for an amazing session, but what do I know. 
  • A very German problem to have – could y’all not stand on the left side of the escalators? We have places to be.