Publicis wants Leon to help blue chip clients like Walmart, UBS Group and Nestlé understand what blockchain, NFTs and a more immersive internet experience could mean for their businesses. The stakes are high: McKinsey & Co. consultants estimate that annual global spending on this virtual landscape could reach up to $5 trillion by 2030.
Léon has a LinkedIn profile, an email address and a French accent. But he doesn’t get a paycheck: Leon is a lion-like digital avatar.
Million dollar paychecks
Although Leon is not human, companies are increasingly hiring real people to help them navigate the so-called “meta-jungle”. Companies as diverse as consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, talent manager Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Spanish telecommunications operator Telefonica, luxury goods maker LVMH and wedding registry retailer Crate & Barrel all decided they needed a Metaverse Headmaster.
Companies are handing out $1 million salaries to new executives as a down payment to secure their digital future. Gartner analysts say that one in four people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse within a few years. It’s not yet clear what we’ll be doing there, but P&G, for its part, hopes it will involve a commitment to Crest toothpaste or Herbal Essences shampoo.
P&G this year launched a digital platform called BeautySPHERE and reimagined a popular 1980s TV ad into a video game. Nike bought a virtual sneaker company and created a world modeled after its real-life headquarters. Starbucks is introducing coffee-themed NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, tied to its customer loyalty program. Walmart could create its own cryptocurrency. Luxury brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana have all taken their fashions to virtual realms in hopes of converting young people online into real-life buyers of high-end handbags, watches and jewelry.
Few of these experiments have made money. But that’s not the point right now. Call it FOMO metaverse. Bosses feel it. Crate & Barrel Holdings CEO Janet Hayes said it was “critical” that the company had “an impactful presence in the metaverse”. Walt Disney chief Bob Chapek said the metaverse “will create an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories.”
why is it important
Translating that talk into action is the work of leaders like P&G’s Ioana Matei, whose title is responsible for emerging and immersive technologies, and LVMH’s Nelly Mensah, vice president of digital innovation and emerging solutions at Fendi and Bulgari. Disney’s man in the metaverse, Mike White, is senior vice president of next-gen storytelling and consumer experiences.
It is now common for newly appointed metaverse mavens to cling to other responsibilities. Crate & Barrel’s Sebastian Brauer’s day job is to lead product design and development, but he says he spends about 20% of his time on meta-tasks like strategy, outreach and finding ways connect the physical and virtual domains.
Winning over the skeptics
According to Cathy Hackl, who helps companies set up their meta business units and claims to be the “world’s first metaverse manager”, the ideal metaverse manager can be as fluent in augmented reality and virtual reality as sales and marketing. a title she gave herself. “They’re not easy to find, but there are people who straddle those two worlds,” she said.
Metaverse leaders need to forge external partnerships and win over internal skeptics, adds Wendy Doulton, managing partner of Katalyst Group, a consumer tech staffing firm.
One example is Joanna Popper: the Creative Artists Agency’s new metaverse director used to work at HP, where she led its virtual reality efforts, working with studios like Disney and Paramount. Previously, she held positions in marketing, consulting and investment banking. CAA, whose Hollywood clients include actors Tom Hanks and Reese Witherspoon, also represents NFT artists like Micah Johnson and has invested in metaverse entities such as NFT marketplace OpenSea.
Popper said his role was to “build metaverse strategy”. His unique skill set is why Metaverse Directors can attract salaries of up to $1.5 million.
However, the recent financial rout in the tech sector may cause the biggest players in the metaverse to rethink their ambitions. Crypto winter is upon us, NFT purchases have slowed, and increasingly, cost-conscious companies need to focus on what will actually make them money. “The last thing I want to do as we head into a potential recession is consume company resources,” Brauer said. “But I see it as investing to grow. It’s R&D. This train is coming.
CAA’s Popper said the downturn actually creates an “opportunity time” to build. “It’s the first innings of an extra long game,” she said.
It is unclear if these early evangelists will still be around in later innings. In other words, Leon better watch his virtual back. It’s a jungle out there.