Horizon Media, the media services agency, just issued a report outlining the latest trends to which brands must respond. Two of these trends, Restivism and Untact, create the platform for one of branding’s biggest challenges. Brands need to market to my physical and virtual shared experiences. Brands must address my simultaneous experiences in the real and in the ideal worlds. Both are me: one is the corporeal me while the other is the essence of me but not physically me. One is me and one is meta-me.
Untact is all about contactlessness. It is about QR codes, virtual reality, artificial reality and avatars. It is about simulated reality but a reality nevertheless. Restivism is all about putting my mental and physical health first, moving away from the demands of “work hard, play hard.” Restivism promotes napping, walking and exploring. Restivism happens in current society.
What we learn from the Horizon Media report is that brands should understand 1) the drive for self and communal meaningfulness while at the same time, 2) address the drive to escape to an alternate self in a different plane where life can be meaningful as well.
There once was an Age of Me. The Age of Me was the flowering of the Boomer culture. It was self-focused and self-indulgent. The individual ruled. Now, there is substantive me and simulated me. “I am he as you are he as you are me, And we are all together” … this finally makes sense.
A primary piece of understanding market segmentation is that people have different needs based on different occasions. In other words, what brand you want is due to who you are, why you want this brand and in what context (how, when, where) you want this brand.
This idea still holds. The difference is that the who is now me or meta-me; the why is what I need for me or meta-me; the context is reality or metaverse.
In the real world, I may need to find brands that advance my physical self. In my alternative reality, I may need brands that enhance my virtual self. In my real world, I attend to myself so I stay sane in the game. In my alternate world, I am the game and can game the system.
Horizon Media highlights six other trends. Privacy, civic integrity, our focus on the mystical, our embrace of NFTs and the role of tech in saving the environment. But, the idea that we can now be real and virtually real, with needs and occasions on both sides, is unique and challenging. This is more than meaningful moments and virtual test drives. As Horizon Media stated, these trends are designed to wake up brands to a new world where people are “…acting with agency in order to do better, be better and build better.”
Yes, but, these trends also point to the idea that we have two options: apparent and alternate realities. One option is current, real society; the other is simulation of reality. This theory owes a lot to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who wrote Simulacra and Simulation in 1981. As Monsieur Baudrillard described the simulated environment, it is “the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.”
Some brands are already focusing on satisfying our me’s and our meta-me’s. Let’s look at the world of restaurants. For the substantial me, Chipotle makes Food with Integrity easier to obtain. Chipotle’s brand experience is heightened by its use of technology. Ordering is made hassle-free via its Chipotlanes drive-ups and its Digital Kitchen which only takes online orders. For the meta-me, Chipotle now has creative content for Twitch, Tik-Tok and Roblox, the online game and game creation platform, with its own currency Robux.
A restauranteur, Stratis Morfogen, is resurrecting the Automat concept for the digital world. It is a modern contactless experience. The old Automat required customers to buy food from vending machines using coins in slots. Mr. Morfogen has today’s technology in mind. Customers can order via kiosks or phones. Selections are placed in compartments waiting for pick-up. It is the epitome of Untact.
Then, there is the explosion of virtual brands. Virtual brands exist and do not exist at the same time. Virtual brands exist in ghost kitchens. In one case, a restauranteur has created “virtual turnkey brands” that restaurants can use to expand their offerings. Per Restaurant News, a lunch only virtual brand can now provide breakfast or dinner by using one of the turnkey virtual brands.
The meta-me environment goes well beyond eating. According to the Horizon Media report, we seek personal well-being in reality. We wish to enhance our physical self. At the same time, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, we can engage in metaverse exercise. “With a Meta Quest 2 headset and virtual-reality workout apps like Supernatural, FitXR and Holofit, you can burn a lot of calories in the metaverse. Just mind the motion sickness, and wear a sweatband.”
Where do you want to live? While we seek an easier home life in reality while learning to cope with the complexities of endemic coronavirus, we can also be owners of palatial real estate in the metaverse. Financial Times just wrote a long article about the millions of dollars that are being spent on buying virtual property. “For many homeowners, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a change in perspective on where they wanted to live. Why stay in a cramped apartment in the smoggy city when you can Zoom into your meetings from a country farmhouse or Edwardian manor or Martello tower?”
Where do you want to shop? Many brands from the “real world” are buying space in a virtual mall where they sell goods. As shoe brand Adidas stated, use the platform “… as a way of expressing our excitement around the possibilities it holds.”
What kind of sports fan are you? We can follow the NFL teams vying for the Super Bowl win in reality and we can experience soccer in the Etihad, the Premier League champions’ home stadium. Again, according to Financial Times, Sony and Manchester City FC are creating an “… accurate metaverse version” of the Etihad. Your avatar could visit for free, for now. Sony and Manchester City FC describe this effort “as an exercise in the elusive fan engagement that clubs so desperately want to get right….” In other words, expanding the fan base.
Farhad Manjoo, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times wrote that we are living in a world where the physical and virtual mingle. He wondered if our physical world “… can even function in a society where everyone has one or several virtual alter egos?”
In the meantime, brands now face the challenge of marketing to multiple me’s in two separate existences.
There is ego and alter ego. There is me and meta-me.
Welcome to the Age of Me’s.