August 15, 2019

Avatars and Beyond—The digitalization of the self

Last November, fashion retailer Carlings released its first digital-only collection, allowing customers to be virtually dressed up in their purchases. While paying for virtual items is nothing new, could we see a greater shift towards digital personas in the near future?

Carlings: From retailer to digital designer

Carlings is already a successful retailer based in Norway that promotes itself as having “the best jeans in Scandinavia.” It also started carrying digital-only collections since its first foray last November.

Customers purchase an outfit from the 19-piece collection for £9-30, upon which a group of 3D designers will digitally ‘fit’ the look onto the consumer (or the desired subject) in the photo of choice. Just like that, it’s ready for the gram.

For the rest of us, it’s nothing new

As history shows, people pay for perceived value, no matter if that value gets instilled in them and even if that value is contained within something intangible.

For example, ebooks helped bring whole libraries with us in a small device. For online games, it was about busy or casual gamers getting rare items that could help improve their experience. For creatives, it was plugins and stock assets that ultimately saved us time, energy and money.

For the people doing it for likes or just for fun? It’s the promise of looking like a million bucks in a catwalk worthy outfit, but only paying $15 and without having to search for the appropriate size, nor having to deal with a store’s return policy.

Avatars and Beyond

Avatars, handles, usernames and the like are all facets of our digital personas. They provide anonymity, notoriety or enjoyment, perhaps even all at once. But if the mainstream decides to move beyond the headshots and profile pictures and starts to embrace more dynamic and customizable three-dimensional avatars, we might start to see a profound shift in how much value we ascribe to those personas. Eugene once Zepeto-fied the whole team, and thankfully that didn’t become a thing, but who’s to say the cultural currents won’t embolden him to try again?

Could we see a shift in valuing the digital over the physical? If society and companies continue on a path that sees human features as limitations and liabilities, we just might. The rise of virtual influencers like Lil Miquela does show brands’ willingness to play with the idea of having an asset that will always look perfect, never step out of line—and will never have to be paid (unless the humans behind them do wrong, also a real possibility).

What’s Stopping Us?

For the rest of us, our digital personas could be written off as simply an extension of the “personal brand” we use to streamline our complex selves for online interactions that encompass our work and careers. However, like the struggle for work-life balance, we’ll have to be wary of an upset digital-physical balance where we conflate living our “best lives” and living it through our best lies.

For real value to come through, we believe a handful of things need to happen:

  1. Our digital lives become increasingly important, such as video games and social sharing (check, social media anyone?)
  2. The ability to showcase and acquire rare and collectibles assets (check, especially in video games via skins)
  3. The ability to take these rare and collectible assets all across our digital worlds (WIP, the infrastructure is emerging but definitely not consumer friendly)
  4. The digitization of brands that have existing real-world relevance (Carlings is a start, though far from a globally-relevant brand. Give us Nikes, adidas, Gucci, Stone Island, Rimowa, and more)

It’s important to consider that in this particular use case, our general human behavior of wanting to collect and show off hyped things hasn’t changed so much as it has reemerged in digital worlds. Game on.

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