“I so much like to hear the singing of things…”
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1921
A new fixation of mine is the accelerated need for digital twinning, ushered in by the untethered space of the metaverse.
I recall the production import of CAD files in early configurator work for VW.com back in the mid-2000s, and the awe-ha of witnessing a fully realized digital version of a product. For a producer like me, the artful and comprehensive digitization of product—a CGI design specialization—was a marvel-worthy hybrid of engineering and craft. But it was reluctant admiration, given that this could void a trek to Cape Town for that car shoot.
I also admired how the products I iterated and wove into my ad experiences also found their way into culture through the sometimes deft, sometimes clumsy, technique of placement.
With the metaverse, product placement may never have had it so good. Its terrain was once the sole domain of seeing Cheerios in the cupboard on Seinfeld. Or Eggo’s ordinary (and evidently unpaid) sighting in Stranger Things. Or Elliott, on the cusp of intergalactic history, pursuing E.T. via a trail of Reese’s Pieces (although as the marketing side of the story goes, M&M’s had the first shot at that).
But what about either/or?
Depending on who’s watching, when, and how, perhaps it could be a trail of Pretzel M&M’s in the Spielberg classic after all—or crumbs of Doritos, or drops of Cherry Coke. Wait, what if E.T. wanted Elliott stocked up on antioxidants with baby carrots?
Customizing an analog narrative such as E.T. is hardly extraordinary and not too difficult in today’s VFX landscape. But what about experience in the virtualverse? Irrespective of the build and craft necessities of digital representation, placement potential is limitless. And just as those chocolatey peanut-butter bits were narratively distinctive (a bonus in product placement), engagement potential is as mind-blowing as Elliott’s climactic dirt-bike liftoff.
In Web3, we’ll be defining our experiences—and, count on it (the blockchain certainly will), it will be rife with… stuff. Products will be replicated, they’ll be dimensional, photo-real, and perfected. And they’ll be crude, pixelated, and unfinished. They’ll be at our doorsteps in an hour and/or digitally (and non-fungibly) perpetual.
Back in February of this year, at Hogarth and WPP we announced The Metaverse Foundry, a hotbed of virtual thinking and making. In defining one of Hogarth’s principal roles in guiding the networked construct, Richard Glasson, our CEO, put such a complex activation into very simple terms, as far as stating one of marketing’s most compelling missions in the virtual space: “We recently launched the Metaverse Foundry, which is completely dedicated to producing virtual art, 3D and CG work which lives in the Metaverse. It’s a whole world that our clients need to think about: how audiences are going to expect them to turn up.”
By “turn up”, we mean a lot of things. But without question, and in particular for brands, it’s to see, experience, and personalize products.
I’m truly hell-bent on constructing involved experiences in the metaverse. I’ve also never been so invigorated over the pure potential of things… I mean, what will I look like across platforms? What am I wearing—no, not what am I wearing, how am I going to accessorize? And I can finally wear eyeliner again, like I did in the clubs in the late 80s!
So much for awaiting the new Aston Martin in the next James Bond release at the cineplex—I’ll test-drive it after seeing the trailer on my Oculus. Better yet, I’ll co-engineer the newest Mach3. I’ll design the next Twix bar—gluten-free, with marshmallow crème. And I’ll watch an automated version of Jonah Hill vouching for it (assuming he still likes marshmallow).
I have a friend who fabricates miniature plastic parts for the modeling of luxury cars—just as it takes handmade craft to build the highest-end Rolls-Royce, it’s the same for the shoe-sized version. Walking through his shop, I realized that the virtual highlights the wonder of representation, and it struck me that there’s the primary thing, and there’s a tangible alternative to that thing, and then there’s the virtual thing. But which one is real—which is the actual?
Well, they’re all actual. The metaverse will help us realize this more than ever.
The most future-forward production mind I’ve ever worked with is Hogarth’s CIO, Penri Jones. He and I were recently opining on prioritizing our approach to a new business RFP. Penri helped to simplify the crux of what ought to be done: “This is all about digital twin. We need to walk them through how they can digitally build and apply their product and experience, everywhere. We’ve got to demonstrate that pipeline for them.”
Product experience and creation will be abundantly in the hands of ad-makers (from ADs to algorithms), mediums, gamers, APIs, avatars, and avid fans. The expertise, efficiency, and craft of building and enabling these things could be as critical as their actual construction. At that, product realization will be unrecognizable from where we are now, with the production challenges surrounding it at once relieved (“boo, reshoots”, “go prefiz”, “yay lifecycle”, “holy AI!”) and richly systematized.
I thought I’d missed my chance at imaginatively placing my client’s product into a megahit, but with the reproduction, customization, and unlocking of the tools of creation in the metaverse, it’s yet to come.
Dave Rolfe is global head of production at Hogarth Worldwide