This Women’s Day advertisement from India—created by a man—comes off like a bad Hallmark greeting card. It just feels, well, wooden.
Inequity In The Metaverse—How Brands Can Prioritize Multicultural Marketing In Virtual Worlds
How some Web3 projects are trying to design for multiculturalism and diversity that includes everyone in the new internet
By Garett Sloane
In the metaverse, everyone can go Nowhere. The developers of Nowhere, a browser-based 3D meetup platform, made it so people don’t need a crypto wallet or NFT to join; there are NFT integrations, but it’s not a requirement, which lowers the technical—and financial—boundaries.
“Anyone with a link, and a click, can come in,” Ana Constantino, co-founder of Nowhere, told Ad Age during a recent meet-up at the virtual space.
Nowhere is like an amalgamation of the audio-streaming app Clubhouse, with different rooms hosted by users, and Zoom, the video conference platform.
In Nowhere, people pop in by video, framed by digital nonagons, which they maneuver around the site to go toward and away from other people in rooms. The sound is 3D: When a person approaches a conversation, it gets louder, and the noise recedes the farther away they move.
Nowhere seems low tech, but that’s intentional, so people in countries with fewer high-powered computers can participate. Its founders say it is a nod to the need for multiculturalism in the coming metaverse, where there is a risk that high-priced NFTs and expensive computing gadgetry could limit participation, unless early adopters like Nowhere give the underserved an entry point. Nowhere is undoubtedly a Web3 platform, since it can link to crypto wallets to implement cryptogating, which lets private rooms control who enters based on whether they are holders of a particular NFT.
Constantino, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and originally from Brazil, said that the concept for Nowhere was to create an online world that erases boundaries. “We believe culture and society benefit when people are together,” Constantino said.
Nowhere has about 12,000 members, Constantino said, and many are in the Web3 ecosystem. Google, Salesforce and Coindesk employees have held Nowhere meetups, for example, Constantino said.
Nowhere represents the building blocks of the metaverse, where early adopters want to make a new internet that alleviates the problems of the old one. Web 2.0 was characterized by social media apps and mobile devices run by companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
They became known as “walled gardens” because they locked their users in and tightly controlled the experience. Web3 adherents are developing decentralized platforms on principles of interoperability, transparency and accessibility. And they want everyone to have a voice in a way that promotes principles of multiculturalism, so that it’s not just a select few who own the NFT land and have a voice to establish crypto ground rules.
But some people are worried about the direction of the early metaverse, and whether it truly welcomes everyone. Constantino points to the gold rush happening in NFT real estate, where sites like Decentraland and The Sandbox sell virtual land for thousands of dollars. “That creates exactly the problems that exist in the real world,” Constantino said, “that push out people who don’t have the assets, replicating the problems in the virtual world.”
The metaverse could fall short of its ideals. Web3’s early builders could install the same people in positions of power today; typically white men in tech. There are concerns that companies like Meta, formerly Facebook, could develop virtual reality platforms and crypto communities with the same monopolistic appetite they displayed conquering social media. And the same divisions exposed in Web 2.0, disharmony through social media, will replicate unless metaverse founders stop it from the start.
“Some [projects are] not accessible,” Constantino said. “They are going to be for small clubs and then lose the potential, that is, to discover new people and new experiences.”
There is, however, a groundswell of supporters pushing for a truly multicultural Web3. Nowhere, for one, promises it will always have a free version, although the business charges for some added features, Constantino said.
There also are NFT communities that embrace inclusivity in their design concepts. DeadFellaz is one of the more popular NFT projects on OpenSea, the Web3 marketplace, and the creators intentionally made the avatars with an eye toward cultural sensitivity, according to a co-founder, named Betty. (Betty is a pseudonym for the Australia-based co-creator, who has never revealed her identity—part of the anonymity that sometimes is associated with Web3.) DeadFellaz is an NFT collection of 10,000 characters based on variations of 450 traits, and the avatars look like undead cartoons. “The reason I actually created DeadFellaz, to start off with, was that I wanted to fill a void that I felt myself,” Betty said in a recent interview with Ad Age.
Betty said most of the NFT projects she encountered were straight out of gaming culture and oversexualized. “The representation, as a woman, was almost through offensive stereotypes,” Betty said.
DeadFellaz is a “brand born of NFTs,” Betty said. The project combined hand-drawn designs with a computer program to generate thousands of DeadFellaz. Betty said that the basic design elements were vetted to ensure that none of the characteristics were offensive or appropriated culture. DeadFellaz are diverse even if they are green zombies.
“A lot of the bias in the real world has followed us in Web3,” Betty said, “because we’re the same people just in a different setting.”
Betty points to a common saying among the Web3 and NFT elite: WAGMI, which means, “we’re all going to make it.” Sometimes she’s not so sure.
“In the Web3 space we have this idealistic approach,” Betty said. “We’re all going to make it. ‘WAGMI’ is the thing that is touted a lot. I think that it’s unrealistic in a lot of ways.”
But, at the same time, there is camaraderie and promise in the new community, Betty said. “The opportunities that arise for people, it’s complete creative liberation.”
Karen Baker, president of Boston-based marketing agency Boathouse, said that her clients have a lot of discussions about how to ensure Web3 is a multicultural space. And Baker said she talks with artists and web designers who want to bring more diversity into their teams.
There is an urgency, Baker said, for “design justice,” which is the principle that diverse voices help build fairer technology from the ground up. The concept has only gained in importance since 2020, coinciding with the racial reckoning in the U.S. following the police killing of George Floyd.
“Design justice is when people who have been marginalized, unrepresented, have the opportunity to have a seat at the table, to actually guide how things are developed in technology,” Baker said. “So it allows them to be the lead in how things look and are improved. So it’s more than just social good, it’s actually being able to use more human-centered design to make sure that everyone is represented inside of the metaverse.”
Even with all the attention on social justice, the tech world is struggling, Baker said. “It doesn’t seem to be having an impact yet.”
Katie Burke, the metaverse co-lead at Accenture Interactive, said that she is optimistic about the potential for the metaverse to facilitate more participation, not less. Burke pointed to R&B singer Ashanti, who recently helped co-found a startup called EQ Exchange, a woman-owned Web3 platform. “Emerging players building the critical blocks of Web3 are committing to multiculturalism,” Burke said.
The promise of Web3 is that it can be accessed from anywhere, opening opportunities across the world and across cultures, Burke said. “People are no longer limited to opportunity by their place of birth, society or appearances, and the metaverse, if anything, will and has enabled equality,” Burke said.
Baker agreed that a fully functioning metaverse could change the way we look at multiculturalism. “Take a Lego movie for instance–people are yellow, they’re blue, they’re red, they’re orange. So when you talk about multicultural, [the metaverse] can be a whole other way we look at multicultural.”
Here’s more evidence of COVERT-19 (aka Divershitty) that demonstrates how racial and ethnic diversity in Adland receives diminishing interest and dwindling investment. Adweek is publishing a category of content about Ukraine—which appears well above the obligatory DE&I fluff.
Adweek published a perspective from Mojo Supermarket Junior Strategist Siham Saleh titled, “Why Does an Industry Focused on Cultural Moments Ignore Ramadan Ads?” Um, the answer to the question is rooted in its inherent flaw—a single missing word—which negates the need for an op-ed at all. That is, the question should have read:
Why Does an Industry Focused on White Cultural Moments Ignore Ramadan Ads?
Any other questions?
Why Does an Industry Focused on Cultural Moments Ignore Ramadan Ads?
With $2.5B spent on holiday advertising in the U.S., 3.9M Muslim Americans see none of it—here's how to change that
By Siham Saleh
Like clockwork, every November our screens are flooded with Christmas ads. $2.5 billion is spent on holiday advertising in the U.S. alone, making Christmas and all its traditions a well-known household topic.
Advertising has the power to bring that level of understanding and cultural awareness to something, even if you don’t celebrate it. So why hasn’t American advertising done the same for the 3.9 million Muslims who observe Ramadan?
As a strategist, Muslim and skeptical Gen Zer, I have to question what’s happening here. For an industry that largely relies on cultural moments to connect with people, we tend to ignore an entire month enjoyed by millions of people.
On the other hand, the challenge is understandable—how does a brand market to a community that has notoriously been othered to death and stereotypically deemed as serious in nature?
Muslims have always been alienated in every sense of the word. The last few decades have been peppered with vignettes in film and media of only one type of Muslim. These misrepresentations have instilled fear in the lives of Muslims around the country. Constantly under scrutiny and always viewed as the dangerous ones.
These narratives have damaged the sense of safety and security for Muslim Americans. Although these sentiments are still present today, viewers and consumers are slowly beginning to realize that this one-dimensional version of a Muslim has a blatant disregard for the depth and diversity of the Muslim diaspora.
Yet the advertisers and marketers who help influence American society are afraid to make work for Ramadan. Are they afraid of making the wrong impression? Or worse, is there a deep-rooted fear of the community itself? Whatever it is, it’s truly an alienating experience to see myself depicted in one very harsh light.
The infrastructure to meaningfully connect with the Muslim American community simply does not exist. After spending some time researching brand behaviors around Ramadan and watching hundreds of Ramadan ads from across the world, only two campaigns stood out—one of which was over 20 years old, and neither came from the U.S.
For those keeping track, that’s $2.5 billion, 3.9 million Muslim Americans and only a handful of ads that go beyond a social post. Pretty outrageous, right?
The social barriers that have led to these numbers don’t have a valid reason to be in place. Here are ways for brands to get meaningfully involved.
The questions you’re probably asking yourself
What is Ramadan anyway? Ramadan begins on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which happens to fall during April this year. The month entails fasting from dawn until sunset, and Muslims abstain from food and water during that time. The month provides a way for Muslims to reconnect with their faith, a chance to get closer to their communities and an opportunity to build better habits.
Why haven’t I heard about this before? The reason you’re asking shows just how long overdue this is in American advertising.
Why should we care? When we ignore such a large group of people, we send a message that their practices and beliefs don’t matter, and we can all agree that we don’t want to be sending those types of messages anymore.
Is it ok to advertise during Ramadan? Yes, some of the biggest brands advertise year after year but exclusively in the MENA region.
Does everything have to be super serious? No, contrary to popular belief, we do in fact have a sense of humor.
What to expect in your Ramadan planning journey
At its core, Ramadan is a religious observance and requires a level of respect. That being said, this isn’t just another holiday to win a Cannes award or hit some quarterly goals.
There are 3.9 million Muslims with spending power, but that doesn’t mean you can dive in and ask for their money. At best you’ll be pandering, at worst you’ll be offensive. You need to go in with a real interest in developing a connection with this group. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.
We spoke with 25 young Muslims from our Gen Z panel about their Ramadan experiences in America. These young Muslim Americans gave us some important insights that marketers could learn a lot from. Here are three entry points to help advertisers acknowledge Ramadan in 2023:
Sunset to sunrise. Even though we fast all day, food remains part of the practice. Friends and family get together to cook, exchange dishes and host iftars on a regular basis. Sharing different cultures with our community through food is the Ramadan love language. If you’re in the food category, this is a time to step up and be a part of those iftar and suhoor meals.
Ramadan brain. It’s no surprise that if you’re fasting from dawn until sunset, your biorhythms are completely flipped. Many of us plan our day and rearrange our routines based on our changing energy levels. Maintaining the same productive routine is hard when you can’t afford to use what little energy you have during the day. To the brands in the health and fitness category—think about hosting classes at night or creating Ramadan meal plans.
Full stomach, full hearts. As the first of two Eids in the Muslim faith, Eid al-Fitr is the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. It’s a day for Muslims to celebrate the blessings of the holy month over prayer, community gatherings and food. Families spend the day visiting one another and exchanging gifts with loved ones. If you’re in the retail category, here’s an opportunity to make Eid celebrations beautiful and fun.
What are you waiting for?
Our industry has the influence to change perspectives and shift social conversation. These are just a few insights to help acknowledge a community that is so rarely celebrated in the U.S. So next year, consider adding Ramadan to your cultural calendar, and come celebrate with us.
Wannabe Mad Men and Mad Women of the present era continue to apply and execute the concept for diversity. That is, the dominating majority—White men and White women—keep cunningly changing the DE&I conversation, switching the focus in other directions to ultimately avoid addressing the nettlesome true issue.
The COVID-19 pandemic and current events have served as perfect covers, providing a variety of diversionary opportunities. What receives more attention than racial and ethnic diversity in Adland? Here’s a review of the latest people, places and things—which are being dubbed COVERT-19:
1. White women This clan still commands the lioness’ share of DE&I discussions—despite the inability of White women to even hold long-term interest in their own cause.
2. White LGBTQIA+ White people show faux pride in supporting this group over racial and ethnic minorities.
4. White people with physical disabilities Accessibility trumps inclusivity.
5. White people representing neurodiversity Um, never mind.
6. White addicts Expect Advertising Anonymous meetings soon.
7. Mental health The way this has moved ahead of racial and ethnic diversity is… depressing.
8. Sustainability Better to hug a tree than a minority.
9. COVID-19 The scoreboard reads COVID-19, BIPOC-0.
10. COVID-19 variants Think of these as booster shots for exclusivity.
11. War in Ukraine Any chance to create scam ads inspires deceptive defenders of peace and justice.
12. Russian withdrawal Hey, it takes time to abandon Russian comrades—at least until there’s a possibility to pitch new business.
13. Remote working Need proof of systemic racism? At the next agencywide Zoom gathering, mandate that everyone turn on their video and see.
14. Return to office Return to cultural cluelessness too.
16. The Great Resignation The wave of resigning Whites presents a perfect time to bring in non-White replacements without accusations of reverse racism. But don’t bet on anyone exploiting the moment.
17. Psychological safety Wow, now White people don’t feel comfortable being around White people.
18. Metaverse Familiar with the 3D virtual worlds? Doesn’t matter—it generates more interest than real, live people of color.
19. NFTs Oddly enough, Non-Fungible Tokens are awarded greater respect than, well, regular tokens.
The conversation-changing phenomenon deserves a new label. For now, go with COVERT-19—or Divershitty.
Edward Jones is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. After reaching a $34 million discrimination lawsuit settlement. Also, the headline above feels like minority candidates are being charged with turning Edward Jones ‘into a place of belonging.’ Shouldn’t that be the responsibility of corporate leadership?
Learn what it takes to be a Chief Diversity Officer by simply completing a 6-week online short course. Or if you’re the resident minority at a White advertising agency, you can land the role with no formal training—and often with no additional compensation.
The Earth Day 2022 Theme is Invest In Our Planet.
The idea underscores the challenges of sustainability—and DE&I in Adland.
That is, the ruling majority on Madison Avenue has historically failed to fully invest in diversity, opting to contribute crumbs, contrived clichés and cunning cultural cluelessness.
What’s more, White advertising agencies are now embracing sustainability with greater enthusiasm than racial and ethnic diversity. Fairness, justice and equality are getting dumped into the proverbial recycling bin.
Exclusivity is being sustained.
Comments left at MultiCultClassics posts prompted extending the CSI—Campaign Shittiness Investigation—of We Love You to Health, the patronizing and privileged promotion pooped out by Wunderman Thompson Health and WPP.
Exhibit A: The We Love You to Health campaign image is a royalty-free stock photograph. Does this mean that WPP Racial Equity Program grants show unfair favoritism to audiences—i.e., do White women divertsity promotions receive grant money while Black promotions are granted crumbs?
But wait, it gets worse. Although the photographer is a Black woman, she hails from South Africa, meaning the pregnant models might not be American. In short, a heat shield promoting healthcare equity for U.S. Black women features foreign talent. Hey, good thing that all Black people look alike. At least to culturally clueless White people.
Exhibit B: A comment left at the previous post charges WPP with shady global allocation and discriminatory distribution of the $30 million earmarked for diversity do-gooding. Is the corporate investment perpetuating systemic inequality? Seems like WPP is declaring, “We Love You to Wealth.”
Exhibit C: The exhibits above might also explain why Wunderman Thompson Health executives gushed over how the campaign was inspired by insights, analysis and research that are common knowledge and common sense. Anyone could have gained enlightenment by simply paying minimal attention during Black History Month 2022, where the theme was Black Health and Wellness.