Brace yourselves…why the Metaverse is here and now

metaverse nike2Just when you thought you had read every prediction for the year ahead, up pops Wunderman Thompson Intelligence’s The Future 100, the annual 100 bitesize predictions across 10 sectors, exploring prevailing trends, stand out technologies and what is making an impact.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the list is dominated by the Metaverse, although whether consumers have got a grip with this virtual phenomenon remains to be seen.

Virtual action is high on the agenda as people look for ways to support humanitarian causes and pursue sustainable living both onscreen and off.

The report claims that entertainment is being rewritten as an augmented experience and engagement is elevated to a savoured experience as people look for better ways to realise themselves online.

Overall, the need to approach digital experiences in more positive ways reflects the general tone of The Future 100: 2023 which shows that even while consumers are facing economic and environmental challenges, they are determined to seek inspiration and optimism.

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence global director Emma Chiu said: “Digital consumers are looking for more than just transactional experiences with technology. The established tone and engagement with digital spaces can no longer be a grind as people look for more optimistic and enjoyable ways to spend their time.

“While these demands change the way we connect with technologies, infrastructures are shifting to keep up and support these new experiences.”

Now in its ninth year, the report spans tech, culture, travel and hospitality, brands and marketing, food and drink, beauty, retail and commerce, luxury, health, and work.

While Decision Marketing readers might not have time to read the full 100 in one sitting, the highlights include:

Situationships: Young generations are apparently intentionally entering temporary partnerships, embracing relationships that ebb and flow between “friends” and “more than friends.”

University of Michigan sociology professor Elizabeth Armstrong, who researches sexuality, said: “Right now, this solves some kind of need for sex, intimacy, companionship – whatever it is – but this does not have necessarily a long-term time horizon.”

For younger daters, situationships are a legitimate relationship status based on open communication and acceptance. Gen Z are embracing the middle ground in a healthy way, approaching some ever-changing boundaries with open minds. Will brands be able to cope?

Feel-good Feeds: Driven by the success of Gap, an app aimed at teens which urges users to compliment their classmates and peers, the report predicts social media feeds will start to turn into a place to find emotional uplift, rather than bile and hate.

Christopher Gulczynski, co-founder and CEO of another “positivity” app Niche, said: “We see social media getting smaller, more intimate. People are moving towards these networks with like-minded shared interests, backgrounds, or identity.”

Consumers are looking for positive modes of engagement and emotional support online. Emerging social media platforms are tapping into user desires for change, reformulating feeds around positivity and uplift. Let’s hope so.

VR Dating: If you thought online was dating hard enough, the report is now predicting the rise of Metaverse dating, which centers around interacting with avatars. One VR dating app even bans profile photos.

In a world where people have become accustomed to judging others by their online dating photo this is a radical move, but it is giving users the opportunity to explore other means of connection, the report claims.

“Nevermet is a personality-first dating app that lets people explore personality and compatibility first, before knowing what the other person looks like in the physical world,” Cam Mullen, CEO and cofounder of Nevermet, told Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

The report reckons that, in the future, relationships might blossom first in the Metaverse, with VR delivering a fresh take on intimacy while tackling some of the downsides of existing online dating platforms and apps.

“It’s easier to fall in love through VR than any other digital medium,” says Flirtual CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan. Really?

Virtual Ambassadors: The days of celebrity brand ambassadors could be numbered if Wunderman Thompson Intelligence is right, with brand representatives getting a digital upgrade.

Digital firm Soul Machines already pairs photo-realistic digital humans with artificial intelligence to offer a more intimate virtual engagement. The company is currently working to create personalised customer experiences for clients such as Nestlé, Twitch, and the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, the LVMH luxury group has Livi, a digital representative showcasing its new innovations and Qatar Airways has a “metahuman” cabin crew member, Sama, to guide guests through its QVerse digital flight. And Dermalogica has created Natalia as a training tool.

Dentsu has already launched a division dedicated to creating virtual identities. “As our world gets increasingly digital, brands need a new way to be more human,” Dentsu said. Don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Rewirement: Retirement is out. Rewirement is in. Apparently, the word “rewirement” has been used for a few years now by financial planners who work with those looking to retire. Now it’s becoming a more expansive term that encompasses parts of people’s lives beyond the financial, Wunderman claims.

The report cites semi-retired photographer and editor Chris Welsch who uprooted his life in Paris to move to a countryside home in Burgundy. Covid was one galvanising factor. He said: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a small Paris apartment and grow old in a place where I can’t see a tree out the window. Now I hope to get more and more involved in the community here in Burgundy where I live.”

Post-pandemic, life and work are taking on a whole new meaning, particularly in later decades, the report maintains, rewirees are reassessing their priorities, rediscovering themselves, and dedicating time to their passions and their families. It’s retirement Jim, but not as we know it…

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