Marketers should serve humanity both in their vision of the future and the role of commerce

The metaverse is marketing’s new shiny object. Countless brands from Microsoft to Benetton are looking to gain a foothold in the nascent 3D social network, where avatars will hang out in lounges, play games, share news and buy stuff—with real money. While some marketers are racing to these new platforms, others are sitting back to watch the successes and pitfalls of their peers before diving in. 

Read more: Metaverse glossary for brands

The metaverse offers the opportunity to re-envision the future. Rather than simply replicating video games or cartoon environments or putting the real world in virtual spaces, its technology gives creators and marketers a second chance to create a more perfect world—one that serves humanity and stretches our imagination. The brands that will win the race to envision our best future will be those who embrace a “protopian” view in their vision of the future and in the role of commerce in the metaverse.

The protopian view

We’ve all heard of utopian and dystopian societies—one that achieves perfection, the other marred by repression and fear and seen in gaming and science fiction (think “Dune,” “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.” Protopian lives in between, defining a society that strives to be better by overcoming injustices and inequities.

Abolishing slavery, universal suffrage, civil rights and same-sex marriage are hallmarks of the protopian progress we have achieved, wrote author Michael Shermer in his 2015 book “The Moral Arc.” This is the template we should apply when thinking about the metaverse. Protopian movements already exist in the real world, so we can certainly create them in the metaverse.

Here are five ways that brands entering the metaverse can promote a protopian vision for the future:

Treat the planet like it’s your client

The metaverse can be a transformative medium for promoting a greener economy. The building blocks of the metaverse—blockchain technology behind bitcoin and NFTs, augmented and mixed reality, AI and 3D Web—require enormous amounts of energy. Brands entering this space must measure the carbon footprint of their presence and find offsets. 

Companies need to balance this energy overload by using their R&D teams to invent and find new solutions, planting trees and funding renewable projects such as carbon capture. 

Invite more voices and perspectives to define the future

If the future is to be diverse and inclusive of all sexes, then brands must make sure their Web3 technologies are fashioned by diverse creators. Right now, mostly white male developers are building the metaverse—only 24% of game developers worldwide are women—and people of color are even less represented. And the metaverse is already experiencing sexual harassment issues. 

A more inclusive team of builders will bring fresh ideas and a bright vision that avoids bias and negative stereotypes. The metaverse should reflect the population, with a plethora of choices for avatars, from skin tone to body type to gender and sexual orientation and beyond. Including builders of differing abilities and socioeconomic levels will ensure the metaverse is inclusive, democratized and respectful of all cultures. 

Make love not war 

Conflict encourages clicks, but can we shift focus to participatory engagement instead of competition and division? 

Brands building the metaverse can take cues from different kinds of thought leaders who project harmony, inclusiveness and a peaceful future. This is a chance to avoid all the pitfalls that have led to societal problems created via social media and gaming including societal polarization, mental health degradation and violence.

Create a caring economy, not a sharing economy

While many positives have come from sharing promoted by some brands, including Uber and Airbnb, sharing apps have also helped to disrupt the economy.

Instead, brands and tech firms should join in the caring economy—a system that promotes equality and opportunity and stewardship of the planet. Companies including Warby Parker, Patagonia and Tom’s have been giving back and thriving for years and their customers reward them with dollars. 

Brands’ metaverse presence should be free, fair and engaged with nature.

Consider technology a servant, not master

Many tech firms were launched by idealistic entrepreneurs trying to democratize society and create positive change, but it hasn’t always played out that way. Brands and tech firms must ask how technology can be of service to the vision of fostering a great civilization, not the almighty dollar.

Benevolence, inclusion, cooperation, sharing and helping others are all markers of a great civilization. Consider how technology can service these masters. Use technology to educate and create empathy.

The bottom line: Building and entering the metaverse donning rose-colored glasses is a recipe for failure. That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands in apathy. The metaverse is a great opportunity to repair the damage of the past and move forward with incremental improvements from a protopian point of view. 

This article first appeared in adage.com

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