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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Web3 developments are a moving target for agencies, with buzzwords like generative AI and the metaverse swirling about. But here’s the burning question: will these technologies revolutionise how agencies work in the long run, or are they destined to fade into irrelevance?

In 2022, M&C Saatchi Abel became the first agency in Africa to claim a slice of the metaverse by acquiring land in Africarare’s Ubuntuland. Our vision? A virtual haven for creatives to connect.

Instead of replicating our agency virtually, we decided to set up a space that people would want to visit more than once while we kept evolving it. The technology was also in its infancy, so we decided to adopt something that was true to our company DNA: art.

Embracing this, we transformed our Ubuntuland space into a dynamic gallery, showcasing the agency’s formidable art collection in 3D and providing insights about the artists and their work. This also allowed us to showcase specific artist collections, collaborate with artists and create a meaningful space for creativity as well as an opportunity for people to view artworks that they may not have had access to before.

However, we’ve come to find that as in much of the metaverse there’s still a lot of room for the tech to catch up to the concept. In that sense, you could compare it with something like the QR code, which was created years ago but caught on only more recently when it was possible to read it with your phone camera as opposed to downloading a QR-code reader.

So was the effort of venturing into the metaverse worth it? Our answer is a categorical “yes”. We’ve gone on the journey, paid our school fees and understand now what building entails. And we have a head start for when it catches on in the future.

And there’s no doubt it will.

For consumers of retail brands like Superbalist the metaverse will be able to offer a virtual shopping experience of viewing and even trying on clothes — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as it will eventually allow brands in every industry to create powerful experiences for its customers.

Last year we started to play around with AI image-generating software Stable Diffusion and Midjourney. The results? Astounding creations at breakneck speed.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and the agency continues to confront the ethical challenges of seamlessly integrating AI-generated content into our work.

This challenge largely comes down to issues relating to likeness and trademark infringement. An obvious example would be if we were to generate an image of a person who closely resembles a celebrity whose image is copyrighted, like Michael Jordan. It is more complex if, say, we create a picture of a person that gets used in a campaign and by chance the person’s doppelgänger happens to drive past the image on a billboard. In that case we could still be liable to be prosecuted for improper use and find ourselves receiving a court summons.

Our vision is for these media-friendly templates, available for download, to become a go-to resource for elevating digital creativity

This problem is especially difficult given the limited training available across South Africa’s data landscape. In the US there’s a large bank of images to draw from, whereas the limited range in a country like ours means there’s a far higher chance of a generated image looking like a member of the public.

We are navigating this tricky terrain by establishing meticulous processes, tracking every step of image creation, so that, should a final product have any likeness to a person, we would have proof of how the image was generated and what the inputs were that were used to create it. It’s a bold leap into uncharted territory, setting the stage for a future where AI-powered creativity is not only groundbreaking but also ethically sound.

One of the reasons we think AI has risen in popularity is that it places an emphasis on productivity. With that in mind, we began to consider how we, too, could lean into this trend at the agency. Having worked in digital for quite a few years now we’ve seen that at times brilliant basics were missing from work — and if we were having this issue, other agencies were too.

Enter Open Source

This website offers templates for every digital and social format. Our vision is for these media-friendly templates, available for download, to become a go-to resource for elevating digital creativity.

What’s the catch? There isn’t one. The agency, true to the spirit of Web3 and our belief in having an attitude of generosity, is sharing this treasure trove with the industry, believing that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. It’s about radical collaboration, a cheat sheet for making extraordinary digital content and a testament to our commitment to making everyone’s digital journey a little smoother.

It’s an exciting time as we continue to redefine the boundaries of creativity, technology and collaboration in the ever-evolving landscape of Web3. The future is now, and it’s more exciting than ever.

Melody Maker is the digital strategy partner and Rory MacRobert the digital creative partner at M&C Saatchi Abel.

The big take-out: It’s a bold leap into uncharted territory, setting the stage for a future where AI-powered creativity is not only groundbreaking but also ethically sound.

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