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In a maneuver designed to position itself as an authority for marketing in the metaverse, tech-focused marketing group You & Mr Jones today announced it is rebranding as The Brandtech Group. The Drum catches up with founder and chief executive David Jones about the reasons for the rebrand and the company’s vision for the future.
You & Mr Jones, a marketing and technology group that owns a diverse smattering of agencies and consultancies including in-house agency Oliver, filmmaking community Mofilm, 55 The Data Company, influencer-focused agency Collectively and more today announced it is changing its name to The Brandtech Group.
The company, which also owns significant shares of Niantic, Pinterest, Zappar and other tech companies, is headed by David Jones, who previously served as the global chief executive at Havas. Jones says the rebrand is a natural extension of his vision for the company. “The reason I called it ‘Brandtech Group’ is that it was a belief that advertising would become a less and less relevant way for brands to connect with people,” he tells The Drum. In lieu of advertising, he says, technology is becoming an increasingly integral part of every brand’s arsenal. “Look at… the enormous growth in streaming and the number of players in that space, the huge growth in platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which just underscore that… the future is going to be about using technology to connect brands and people.”
Jones, has reportedly been using the term “brandtech” as a term to describe this concept since the company’s founding in 2015. And from the sounds of it, his vision has remained consistent over the course of the past six years — in large part because the problems he set out to face have only become bigger monsters.
“Marketing has been totally disrupted by technology,” he says. “You know, we used to make a few TV commercials and measure with that a year later — and it was relatively easy. Now, we need to create huge amounts of content, literally tens of thousands of pieces of content on a weekly basis for all of the channels. We have access to unprecedented levels of data, and all of that is getting increasingly complex with GDPR and cookies going away. Meanwhile, every single person on the planet has become a content creator. And everyone is increasingly shopping online.”
Beyond these developments, technology as a differentiator is becoming ever-more critical for brands in the wake of the pandemic and amid historically high rates of inflation. Jones’ vision has been to solve for these increasingly complex problems — and then to scale globally.
And by this measure, he’s proven fairly successful. In 2015, he raised $300m to build the small startup dubbed You & Mr Jones. Since then, the venture has transformed into a 5,000-person operation serving as a trusted partner to some of the world’s top brands. It tallied a 50% year-over-year jump in organic revenue at the end of Q3 last year — on top of the previous year’s 27% growth in revenue. Per Jones, “Business is booming.”
To maintain this momentum, Jones is eyeing the metaverse. In tandem with today’s announcement Jones published a blog post detailing his thoughts on the future of marketing and “brandtech” within the context of the emerging metaverse, which he anticipates will be “the biggest and most exciting thing” he’ll encounter in his career. He spells out a few critical emerging trends likely to shape the future of marketing and transacting, including the shift toward decentralization and the rise of the creator economy, innovation in virtual reality tech and the staying power of NFTs (to celebrate its rebrand, The Brandtech Group itself says it will be “minting the You & Mr Jones logo into an NFT and then fractionalizing it into multiple tokens [to be distributed among employees and that]… will come with voting rights on charitable donations,” per an announcement today).
The company’s investments in the AI Foundation as well as AR gaming company Niantic — which is now valued at nearly $9bn — are likely to play key roles in its forthcoming metaverse-focused initiatives. “It’s going to be the most exciting next five or 10 years in marketing that we’ve seen,” says Jones.
Some industry players, however, are skeptical of the whole schtick. “The new emphasis by agencies on the metaverse actually feels reactive, not proactive,” says Brady Donnelly, managing director at Sela, a PCA Group agency. Specifically, he says, it feels like a knee-jerk response to an influx of metaverse-focused dialogue that has emerged in the wake of Facebook’s October announcement.
“More importantly,” he says, “it seems to wrongly suggest that the metaverse is a standalone milestone and not just one stop on the same continuum as all other significant digital marketing evolutions over the past thirty years — evolutions that happen in marketing almost constantly.” Donnelly argues that while the metaverse is a sexy topic du jour, it may not have any greater implications for marketing strategies than “more mundane” developments like infrastructural iOS updates and consumer data protection legislation.
Jones, for his part, is confident in the direction in which The Brandtech Group is headed. “We see the big holding companies, and they’re great at brand advertising and branding, but they don’t get tech; nor do they want to, because it’s going to totally disrupt their business models,” he says. “And then on the other side, we go to the tech platforms, and they’ve got an amazing , but they’re only ever going to recommend their tech platform — they’re never going to be objective. And they also don’t have the expertise in brand. What we need is someone who can combine expertise in brand and expertise in technology. So I called our company a brand tech group [from the get-go]. The most unique thing about it isn’t actually understanding of brand and tech, but the ability to do that at a global scale.”
With this goal in mind, the organization is investing big in digital media, ecommerce and metaverse and Web3-related developments. Jones hopes to expand the group’s global footprint along the way. The latest milestone in the path toward global growth was the acquisition of São Paulo-based data company DP6 — with whom Google works closely — last October. “I built the business with a North American-European footprint, because when you’re starting out, you can’t do everything on day one,” says Jones. “And we built a really solid foundation there — so scaling out globally is now a big objective.”
Walmart isn’t the first marketer to show budding interest in the metaverse, but a potentially substantial push to build out its offerings could go a long way in sparking more mainstream adoption of technologies that are foundational to the channel, including cryptocurrencies. The big-box store is the largest retailer in the world, reaching a massive audience of shoppers, and rivals may follow Walmart’s lead in ramping up their bets lest they lose an early-mover advantage in a market some view as the next evolution of the internet.
That said, many metaverse-related technologies like NFTs haven’t served a purpose in marketing beyond one-off stunts or generating some headlines. But the broader vision of what the metaverse could eventually become is appealing to companies like Walmart, with shared virtual realms acting as a venue for customers to try out experiences and products and eventually make purchases of digital goods as they look to customize their online avatars and living spaces. Though businesses clearly smell an opportunity, consumers haven’t quite come around to the idea, even as categories like gaming provide a loose sense of what’s possible in the metaverse.
Some groundwork has already been laid for Walmart’s metaverse approach. Last year, it began seeking a digital currency and cryptocurrency product lead, following in Amazon’s footsteps. Recent executive changes point to a possible strategy switch-up. Longtime merchandising chief Scott McCall is retiring, Bloomberg reported, while Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside — a key player in rounding out Walmart’s e-commerce playbook — will depart in March.
Walmart dipping its toes in the metaverse could support other ventures that are important to staying competitive in retail. In 2020, it introduced its long-awaited Walmart+ e-commerce portal meant to tackle the growing threat of Amazon Prime. Several of the trademark applications were also made under Walmart Connect, the marketer’s fledgling advertising business. Walmart has quickly built out the unit as the demand for retail media soars during the pandemic and packaged goods brands seek alternative targeting methods to cookies, which are being phased out next year.
Other marketers are more firmly planting their metaverse flags. Nike in December acquired RTFKT, a digital studio that designs virtual collectibles like NFTs. The sportswear marketer also recently established Nikeland, an interactive experience inside the Roblox gaming platform that lets visitors participate in activities like dodgeball and trying on virtual apparel.
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