Age is not a good look in advertising.
After all, we are one of the only industries in which experience is rather frowned upon, even if Botox means that it’s a long time since the experienced people have frowned.
However, there is one arena in which age serves you well, when it comes to new technology. Not little tech – like Instagram’s latest wheeze to save itself from tiktok – but real, era defining technology. Like Web3.
And it teaches you a lesson. That advertising people are far too obsessed with new shinny things that burn brilliantly for a moment before fizzing out into a damp pile of nothing. And far too little interested in the fundamental implications of the technology that underpins them.
After all, didn’t we all pile into the first manifestation of the internet, falling over ourselves to serve the VCs that wanted to build online brands the size of God only to be left with handfuls of unpaid invoices as boom turned to bust. We believed the internet would change our lives overnight and when it didn’t, we got bored. Then, like frogs in increasingly hot water, we hardly noticed as the survivors of the crash quickly disrupted every conceivable aspect of our lives.
And weren’t we the ones that believed the hoopla of Web 2.0 and the businesses it spawned, all claiming to be saving the world. We thought that social media was a panacea for budget-light brand building and acquisition if only you could find a million followers and create a shop in Second Life. But when Web 2.0 showed its true colours and the wide-eyed optimism turned into a nightmare of algorithmic induced hate, we were all far too late to do anything about it.
Time and time again in the words of Roy Amara, we have tended to “overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”.
And there is a real danger that we are going to repeat history once more with Web3. That an era defining movement will be pillaged for the initial flowering of baubles and trinkets, while the fundamental point of the thing is lost upon us all.
Because there still exists in Web3 a promise. That the powerful alliance between the ethos of decentralisation, the technology of blockchain and the culture of community will finally usher in a digital world that has humanity at its heart.
An internet that erodes the dominance of the tech monoliths by starving them of our data. That kicks out the intermediaries that get fat from people’s creativity without creating any value themselves. And that bolsters their democracies rather than undermine them.
But what do we see? Agencies and clients pissing about in a metaverse that only exists in their heads and those of awards juries. And when we all realise exactly how far away this vision of a totally interoperable, persistent and singular virtual existence is we will get bored, despondent and go back to the banner ads. Few fame-hungry brands, CMOs and creative teams have the patience to wait for improvements in connectivity and computing infrastructure that can support any kind of metaverse.
Not that you shouldn’t be experimenting with metaverse-style projects. Not that you shouldn’t be exploring the impact of NFT’s on your relationship with fan communities (that’s what we have been doing with Deutsche Telekom to support volunteering across Europe). Not that you shouldn’t be doing far more in the world of gaming, like loads more. But don’t’ go and buy some land in The Sandbox and pretend you are all over web3.
We would be far better to focus on the fundamentals, the really hard stuff. The impact of the blockchain on brand trust when the ledger offers absolute truth instead. The role of alternative currencies that are free from geographical boundaries and political interference but are still incredibly volatile. The emergence of token economies that offer people a stake in their own creativity and energy. The power of fans and communities to dictate the life of brands and even what constitutes a brand.
This is the work we need to be doing. This is what we need to get our collective heads around.
Web3 is not a giant Ponzi scheme or a get rich quick scheme for crypto-bros, it is without doubt the next flowering of a digital revolution now in its fourth decade. It is as significant as the parallel development of 5G for the long-term growth of our economies and the freedom of our people. With huge implications for marketers in the way that people and brands work together.
But only if we learn from our own experience and focus on the fundamental implications of the ethos, technology and culture of Web3. Rather than being drawn, moth-like to the flames of trivia and nonsense that currently precede it.