With the rapid rise of the metaverse, brands and agencies from all corners of the industry are slowly embracing the novelties that come with it. Questions like “What is it?” and “What do we need it for?” are flying left, right and centre so those who actually are investing in it are keen to explain the process.
One example is the South African 3D virtual reality immersive hub Africa Rare, that has created Ubuntuland as part of its metaverse.It claims it’s a “digital land with roots in Africa” that marries African creativity, crypto and commerce. Described as a place of exponential technology and innovation, Ubuntuland is meant to help connect the African continent to the rest of the world and allow users to buy, sell and rent property, as well as other digital assets and art in Ubuntuland. Africa Rare explains that the layout of the verse is inspired by “traditional African architecture, which often employs circular enclosures to house communities and secure wealth,” and has over 200,000 plots of land available for gamers, brands, individuals and more to purchase.
M&C Saatchi Group are committed to delivering meaningful change for clients so continue to invest and create differentiating digital capabilities and “jump in” to immerse and educate people in the latest technology. The metaverse is no different. Ubuntuland presents a unique opportunity. The name itself offers a unique perspective – Ubuntu is a quality that includes essential human virtues - compassion and humanity. At a time when the world is becoming more digital, more virtual and more tech driven, these principles remain fundamental. There is no doubting the global influence that African culture and creativity has on the world and M&C Saatchi Abel’s expansion into this world presents huge opportunities for their clients, and clients across the M&C Saatchi Group.
M&C Saatchi Abel has taken advantage of Ubuntuland by purchasing land and marking its move as “the first South African and African agency to set up shop in this digital world.” M&C Saatchi and its partners are able to access a global network beyond borders and open up to trade, social experiences and economic opportunities where creativity and knowledge-sharing thrive. The expectation is that this planned inclusive world for African creativity will allow creators to be inspired by – and add to – “cultural experiences as well contribute to and profit from various commercial opportunities,” the currency for those trades being $UBUNTU token, built on the Ethereum blockchain. So how did the collaboration between M&C Saatchi and Africa Rare actually come into fruition?
“They actually approached us and said ‘we’re building Africa’s first ever verse within the metaverse and we really want it to be a hub for creativity and for creative thinkers to connect with others globally,’” explains Melody Maker, digital strategy planner at M&C Saatchi Abel. “I think web3 , which is essentially going to be the metaverse and everything that comes with it, is all about connecting people, places and spaces. That’s going to be fascinating.”. She looks back on the days when setting up a Facebook page was such a novelty that it was almost comedic to even think about it from an advertising point of view. However, the shifts that we can all observe have been lately recognised by marketers and rapidly social media has become an integral part of communications. “I think the metaverse is essentially going to be exactly that.”
Investments in the metaverse could turn out to be great for diversification of creativity and thought. Exploring those potentials is key for M&C Saatchi, tells Keke Mehlelebe, partner and head of strategy: “We speak a lot about ‘Brutal Simplicity of Thought’ as our core principle and to deliver beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world. But what’s also really important and critical to that is the people, which revolves around ‘Diversity of Thought.’ That’s so important to drive within the metaverse and has become an expectation of the world.”
So essentially, this piece of land in Ubuntuland for M&C Saatchi promises incredible potential for creativity and connection, as well as an opportunity to engage with things, people, products and brands beyond your reach. “It also feels like a great opportunity for us to use the space in an open-source way, as well as a commercial way,” says Keke.“Provide and shine a light on great artists, creatives and creative thinkers that exist in the African continent. I’d also love to give a guest lecture in the metaverse on the insights, how to get an insight. Or Melody could look at what makes content and how you capture attention. It’s a great opportunity to give people access.”
The potential is definitely there, from being able to showcase contemporary African and South African art to Nando’s opening a chicken shop on Ubuntuland’s high street. M&C Saatchi’s wide range of brands across the world encompassing food, banks, sports, fashion and culture all can benefit from the space as well as any transactions happening within it. “We’ve got a great client mix and group of companies to be able to really do something meaningful within the space,” says Keke.
However, onboarding people when it comes to the metaverse can prove difficult. “It was an interesting conversation to have with our CFO,” explains Melody. “I walked up to his office and said ‘I need you to set up a crypto wallet - and then another wallet, so we can have NFTs.’ It was a bit of a process in terms of onboarding. But I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from the experience and it will be super beneficial for our brands and for us to have that first-hand experience and advise, as well as engage with them to unlock the value of this.”
The same thing goes for onboarding audiences and explaining to them the benefits of the metaverse experience as well as what it actually is .“I think South Africans can be quite scrappy and we’ve had to be, being a third world country,” says Melody. “Making a plan and finding a way is integral to our culture, so I think it will be interesting to see the innovations that arise out of Africans having access to the metaverse and realising its potential.” Looking at the world broadly, South Africa has some of the most sophisticated mobile technology, as well as the fastest adoption rate of cryptocurrencies in the world. So the adoption rate, as well as behaviour towards the metaverse can quickly change to accommodate the incredible cultural and creative diversity seen in the country and the continent as a whole.
Although issues like cost of data and internet access across Africa have always been prominent. “We’re seeing a lot of hopeful changes with regards to that and soon data prices are going to go down quite a lot, which will mean more access for more people. Even if initially it is a very 2D experience of the metaverse, I think it doesn’t always have to be a fully immersive VR headset experience. As it becomes more sophisticated, even that 2D experience can be really interesting. So we’re excited to see what we can do,” says Melody. Beyond the issues of integration and practicality, Keke believes that the continent is really prime for the growth of digital transactions, as well as more digitised experiences.
Navigating the metaverse is a novelty not only for audiences, but also for brands and the mood seems to have many tones. “To be honest, in South Africa, a lot of our brands are still trying to navigate TikTok,” says Melody “So I think adoption rates here are a bit slower, which is where we come in.” Instead of seeing this as a hurdle, M&C adopts a maverick perspective on the situation, taking it upon itselfto become the facilitator and educator that brands need to be able to start their journey and unlock the value within the metaverse space. Melody expands:“I don’t think the word metaverse even is in the dictionary yet. I think we still have a long way to go, but that’s essentially why we decided to start this journey – so we could be the first movers and be able to help and guide brands.”
So what does the future look like for M&C Saatchi Abel, and its digital development within the metaverse? Melody believes that the underlying goal will be connection and expansion in the coming years, no matter the fact that we are still unsure what the metaverse will look like for coming generations. “We want to be a place where people come to learn and create. We want to be a facilitator for our brands, in terms of helping them better navigate the space, understand how to use it, understand how to partake and help them understand what it means to be part of this collaborative community,” she explains.
For her and Keke one of the key advantages of the metaverse is the idea of co-ownership, collaboration and decentralisation, where a community of brands and consumers can be involved. “Because South Africans are so inventive, the commercial opportunities born out of this are endless. We’d like to see how people are going to find ways to monetise and see careers evolve out of this, like metaverse influencers or community moderators. It’s a world of opportunities,” says Melody.
For M&C and the entire industry this all feels like opening a completely new gateway, still in its infancy, but already providing solutions and new approaches to creativity. “People are still trying to get their head around it,” says Keke. “And as long as we relinquish that expectation and allow everyone to just be curious right now, years down the line it’s going to really help unlock a lot for creatives, people, brands, businesses and entire continents.”