IPG Mediabrands CEO Daryl Lee: Metaverse’s $5tn potential will not be realised at Cannes' Media Lions

Daryl Lee: Metaverse’s potential will not be realised at Cannes
The Media Leader interview

In an exclusive interview, global CEO of IPG Mediabrands and Media Lions jury president Daryl Lee talks about the shortlist for this year’s award category and what trends they reveal for the business of media.


Don’t expect a big winner to come from the metaverse this year in Cannes Media Lions, warns Daryl Lee, global CEO of IPG MediaBrands and President of the Media Lions jury. Despite growing enthusiasm about the impact the metaverse could have across key sectors and business, including last week’s McKinsey research quoting its value at $5tn in value by 2030, few brands have made meaningful connections to date.

Speaking to The Media Leader as the 37-strong jury of industry leaders whittle this year’s media entries down to a shortlist of contenders, Lee pours colds water on hopes the new, immersive virtual-reality powered version of the internet is where the action is this year.

“As far as the metaverse is concerned, we have seen lots of interest, but not a lot of creativity,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing a big winner from the metaverse; it’s too early, and it’s kind of crap. I mean, oh my god, did you really need to recreate your product X in there? A digital version of your product is not going to win you a Media Lions 2022.”

The metaverse has become a hotly contested vision for the next generation online, as a spatial version of the internet. McKinsey’s preliminary report tracks ecommerce as being the largest economic force expected to fuel the metaverse this decade (at $2.6tn); followed by virtual learning ($270bn), advertising ($206bn), and then gaming ($125bn).

These are big numbers forecast for the not-too-distant future. Already this year, companies, venture capitalists and private equity firms have invested more than $120bn in the metaverse—double the $57bn invested last year—and consumer-led brand marketing is cited in McKinsey’s report as being among the key drivers of growth.

“While the idea of connecting virtually has been decades in the making, it is now increasingly real, meaning real people are using it and spending real money and companies are betting big,” Lareina Yee, senior partner at McKinsey & Co. said last week. “Yet this booming interest has made it difficult to separate hype from reality. It’s worth remembering that while the bust of the first dot-com boom resulted in the disappearance of scores of companies, the internet itself went from strength to strength, giving rise to new entrants.”

Integrated media plans are also not enough

At this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity, good integrated media plans will also not be enough on their own to win you a Media Lions.

Lee, a former communication planner, admits having spent much of his working life figuring out sophisticated ways to articulate and conduct media integration, the ability to connect with consumers across multiple media touchpoints is no longer enough to truly impress the judges.

“Media integration is no longer considered creative, it is just assumed. It’s good. It’s best practice, but it’s not new practice. There are plenty of good media plans being presented this year, but the jury is united in thinking ‘you’re not going to win on that alone, because that’s the entry point’,” he says. “And brands do not have to be communicating with you during every step in the journey either, in fact, let’s be mindful about where in the journey you think a brand should appear, and how they should behave there,” he adds.

Among the criteria for this year’s Media Lions is the need to demonstrate an “inspiring and innovative implementation of media ideas”, and “work which is enhanced and amplified by a game-changing channel strategy”. During judging, criteria will be weighted as: 20% insight and idea, 30% media strategy and targeting; 30% media execution; and 20% impact and results.

Looking for inspiring work with connected purpose

Lee remains confident that this year’s winners will be notably powerful and inspiring, and believes they can act as statements of intent for where the industry finds itself. He says there are plenty of examples of media being used as a force for good, not just in non-profit work but in highly engaging consumer campaigns too, addressing topics ranging from climate issues to the war in Ukraine or gender inequality.

“There’s a lot of inspiring work, which is always a great benchmark,” he says. “I would say more than 50% of the entries are in some way about a ‘connected purpose’. I would not say a ‘higher’ purpose, because I think what your product does in the world for people is always the biggest purpose, but we’re seeing authentic, connected purposes’ for brands.

“If you look at Levi’s work around diversity and equality and what they have done around equal rights –  particularly in the US –  there is a connect purpose. With a business model based on Levi’s attracting the next generation of consumers, who can have non-binary filters about identity, then to stand-up for all identities absolutely makes sense.

“Similarly, American Express standing up for small businesses, especially those owned by minorities represents a connected purpose. American Express’ largest constituents are small businesses, of course they’re going to take a stand for black-owned restaurants.

“Or Patagonia, [which creates upcycled, quality outdoor clothing that can be reused, and actively promotes awareness and activism for environmental issues, making it a pioneering model in brand transparency] which offer great outdoor products, their consumers are going to be more conscious and interested in the environment.

“These are great examples of connected purposes that are credible. Part of the challenge is about where and how they talk about their connected purpose, because it can’t be in conventional plans.”

The rise of the Creator Economy

In addition, Lee recognises a brave new world of media, “different to our traditional paid media world”, in the creator economy. “In this increasingly influential world, you have to convince creators to partner with brands. Of course they get paid, but the first bar for any credible creator is, ‘do I believe in the brand or product?’

“When there is that connection, and people can see that you’re doing something meaningful for the LGBTQ community or Black businesses, for example, that’s when brands can truly benefit from profound authentic connections.”

Rob Horler, CEO of Whalar, which helps brands find creators for collaborative partnerships, agrees that in the emerging world of social media creators, “brand authenticity” has never been more important.

“Creators build their audiences around engaging content that is rooted in trust and authenticity. It is non-negotiable for them that when it comes to projects they collaborate on, this trust and authenticity is valued and embraced fully by those brands,” he says.

“The smart brands are partnering with creators who can help them connect emotionally and personally with their customers. This is the definition of influence and why, when it’s done well, it is so impactful.”

Horler, who previously has been the CEO of media network Dentsu both in the US and, separately, Northern Europe, adds: “It seems obvious to me that the juggernaut within the global media business right now is TikTok. This has directly translated into many examples of brands partnering with creators and influencers to deliver high-impact, engaging, creative-led campaigns that have delivered extraordinary results, whether they are measured in terms of brand engagement, audience reach or product sales.

“It would be a bit disappointing if the world’s pre-eminent creative advertising awards failed to recognise this and embrace the obvious shift that is taking place.”

Opportunity for industry recalibration

This year’s Media Lions also demonstrate examples of the media being creatively hacked in battles around truth and misinformation. In what Lee calls “a new frontier of media creativity” he cites one famous example of Tinder being used to show pictures of the atrocities of the war in Ukraine to young adults in Russia kept in the dark due to state propaganda.

“This media hack, from Slovakian agency JANDL, taps into the deep hunger to speak to young Russians and have an honest conversation with them,” Lee says. “Apparently, the conversations that were started, while not all cordial, were all conversations that had not happened before, and are centred on depictions of the truth about the war.”

Ultimately this year’s Media Lions are a great opportunity for an industry recalibration and health check: “I think media agencies that think they’re just in the business of media distribution are going to be punished over the next few years because, ultimately, our power lies in being strategic advisers around audiences,” concludes Lee.

“We need to know about audiences better than our clients, we need to really understand our audiences and how they are fragmenting. By knowing the most valuable audiences for a brand and how to build an effective approach to them, that’s incredibly invaluable. That’s what I hope to see rewarded.”


Arif Durrani is an international media consultant and freelance writer. He was previously Bloomberg Media’s executive editor for EMEA. @DurraniMix

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