Real life is killing us

But Web 3.0 might save us all

As part of the 2022 IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands, delegates were asked to write an opinion piece outlining what brands could do to address a particular cultural or societal challenge and affect change. Here, Sofia Pires explores how the issues around pollution and screen time might converge.

For the first time ever, microplastics were found in human blood, sounding yet another alarm on the effects of pollution. And here we are, worried about our kids’ screen time.

I don’t mean that the latter is not important, but I think these two very distinct problems might converge into a solution that benefits all.

Responsible consumption is not the solution.

Globally, 1.6 billion tons of rubbish are dumped every year in oceans and landfill. A big part of it is transformed into microplastics that contaminate the planet and get into our bloodstream through food and air.

Waste is making its way back to where it came from. Us.

No wonder waste management has been addressed as one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal, unfortunately named as 'Responsible Consumption'.

The problem I see with driving Responsible Consumption is two-fold:

  1. 'Responsible' is in this context a euphemism for 'reduction'. And to reduce consumption is never good for our modern economies where more than 50% of the GDP depends on people buying. When consumers stop spending, economic activity and GDP fall, creating the vicious cycle coined as the Paradox of Thrift by British economist Maynard Keynes.
  2. Consumption of products has become a means of self-expression and identity since AF (after King), when brands began adding emotional value to purchases. The notion that what we buy and own makes us who we are has been intensified with web 2.0, when anyone could share their purchases with hundreds or even millions.

For these reasons, I don’t believe that neither the alarming waste stats nor a UN directive are able to makes us buy less. In fact, the very opposite is predicted by BCG’s for the fashion industry, who estimates that by 2030, global apparel consumption will rise by 63%.

Instead of advocating to rewind to our scarcer past, we should be fast-forwarding into the vibrant future.

For long, brands have been blamed for the increase of materialism and over production, persuading consumers to buy more and more, which inevitably increases waste and the size of landfills.

But with Web 3.0 on our doorsteps, where ownership is the big paradigm shift, I see a real opportunity for brands to impact our society positively, and that is by reducing waste.

Now please don’t get all Ritson on this. The metaverse has been happening for a while now.

Just think about someone who buys a Louis Vuitton handbag and shares it on Instagram. 99.9% of the “audience” will never see the real product. 99.9% of its value is already virtual and not centralised. But the product will still end up in our landfills and our bloodstream.

Unlike NFTs.

Only in the metaverse it is possible for brands to reduce production and still increase consumption.

I won’t argue that every brand can extend their product lines into the metaverse and start offering services through DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations).

With Web 3.0 still in its infancy, there are too many unknowns that make it difficult to visualise what’s to come and how consumers will react. But equally, these unknowns are new opportunities to drive brand prosperity and still protect our planet’s longevity.

One of those opportunities is to increase the brands ownership ratio on Web 3.0, by pushing out more of their products to live online. Here are some thought starters.

Readjust production.

The ratio of physical and digital products traded by each brand depends on its role in consumer's life. Nike could become 80% metaverse, 20% physical. Which will probably happen, judging by their recent acquisition of digital sneakers brand RTFKT (read artifact). And I can imagine some progressive restaurateurs starting run experiences through DAOs and smart contracts, saving a lot of food that thousands of bloggers were previously photographing but not eating.

Redesign for the metaverse.

Even though I believe that current technology will improve very quickly, products will never be the same offline and online and more importantly, its utility will vary depending on the context. In my opinion, last year’s Gucci’s Garden Experience on Roblox was not a good showcase of product design. The experience was clunky and the products looked like cheap fakes. A better example is how Coca-Cola extended their assets online to products that don’t even exist, like the Friendship cards NFTs, which was a clever way of overcoming the fact that their product can’t really be consumed online.

Retrain factory workers.

As production is reduced and factories require less people, it’s important to think about the community and the human capital we can leverage in other activities. An inspiring pioneer in this space is Bit Source, a company in Kentucky that retrains coal miners as coders.

As with any big leap, there are uncertainties that make the most sceptical of us reject progress. I can’t blame them, since what we’ve seen so far are clunky executions that make us cringe.

But this is not Second Life. This is humanity’s second chance. To live our real lives for longer and make our digital ones more interesting.

And this is also my sincere call for marketeers to embrace Web 3.0 with the imagination of a creator and the heart of an activist.

Sofia Pires is Strategy Consultant and former Group Strategy Director for HSBC Global at PHD. This piece was submitted as part of the IPA Excellence Diploma in Brands.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024