Imagine an all-digital world in the future where people move seamlessly from virtual to augmented versions of reality. In this metaverse, you can do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create. This is the world envisaged by Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as he renamed his company Meta in October and laid out a grand vision for pursuing the metaverse as the next social platform.

The name was chosen to echo the key product that Zuckerberg hopes Facebook – now Meta – will be represented by: the metaverse, a shared online 3D virtual space that a number of companies are interested in creating as a future version of the internet.

The technology revolution of the last three decades has given people the power to connect and express themselves freely. In this time the internet has grown exponentially as we’ve gone from desktop to web to mobile; from text to photos to video.

The next platform will be even more immersive, as Zuckerberg promises — an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.

“In this future, you will be able to teleport instantly as a hologram to be at the office without a commute, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room to catch up. This will open up more opportunity no matter where you live. You’ll be able to spend more time on what matters to you, cut down time in traffic, and reduce your carbon footprint,” Zuckerberg wrote in the Founder’s Letter.

The company said it would spend $10 billion over the next year to develop the technologies required for building its metaverse. For now though, this metaverse remains more aspirational than real, and Facebook fans should not expect it to be built quickly.

Facebook isn’t the only company to be looking at this brave new world. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is also rolling out new tools for the digital world and starting next year users will be able to join meetings using customized avatars or their digital representation. Video game companies and other tech giants also are racing to develop their metaverse platforms and establish early dominance in what could become a huge moneymaker and permanently change the way people interact with each other.

However, it is hard to say how long the adoption of Metaverse might take and how real it will appear when it does. But as the inimitable Doris Day crooned: “Whatever will be, will be The future’s not ours to see Que sera, sera What will be, will be.”

Meta: Rise or Fall

When the Mahindra Group rebranded itself, Chairman Anand Mahindra was at pains to clarify that the exercise was more than an image makeover. A decade later, the accompanying tagline, Rise, has survived its critics, with the company today standing for excellence and remaining true to its purpose.

Rebranding is often a long, arduous and expensive exercise. Clarity of vision, values and purpose often form the foundation of this exercise, though there are times when vanity triumphs over sagacity. A decade later, Rise has proven to be just what the Mahindra Group needed. Accompanied by good execution, where purpose met action, driven by values, credible and trustworthy leadership, the Mahindra group has become an enduring and trusted brand. Last year it was ranked among the 100 Most Sustainably Managed Companies in the world in a list drawn up by The Wall Street Journal.

A decade later, amidst a struggling global economy, a failed COP26 meeting even as climate change threatens to overwhelm humanity, all of it playing out against the backdrop of the worst pandemic in the last 100 years, Facebook, an alternate planet in itself, has chosen to rebrand as Meta. The move came close on the heels of a six hour platform outage in early October, as well as the release of the damning “Facebook Papers”, a few weeks ago. That the rebranding announcement was met with furrowed eyebrows, isn’t surprising. Clearly, rebranding in the wake of waning trust, no matter how well-intentioned, may appear as an effort at deep-sixing the chequered past.

Technology has swept us off our feet, introducing us to new ways of living, bringing to us choices and experiences that we never imagined, and pushing us into directions that we choose to follow, and eventually get accustomed to. Yet, there is enough to stoke our conscience, make us question if we are on the right track, if we now have initiatives calling out technology for good. Enough that is indicative of a devaluation of trust.

To launch Meta “for connection, for creation, for learning, for joy” with “just a pair of glasses” is beyond reality (pun intended). The promise of a greater connected world fails to pass muster. It is phantasmagoric, apathetic and exclusivist. For all its concern about “people”, it keeps out the “publics”. It also lacks clarity of purpose, demonstrable ethics, a stand on 2 existing issues, and gives little evidence that the decision on what is good for the world, is a result of continuous and direct dialogue with stakeholders. The “publics” have been left out in Facebook’s next chapter, Meta.

That could well be the Achilles Heel of Meta.

When Google created Alphabet, there was surprise and some scepticism. There was a change in leadership, with the purpose and future well defined. “Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable. So we are creating a new company, called Alphabet,” said Larry Page in his letter to shareholders.

The reason behind Facebook’s rebranding is unclear. Worse it seems vacuous, a kind of magic wand that wishes away all its problems. The story it seeks to tell is at best smug, and at worst, glib. The tone is evasive and lacks humility. Ironically, the very “people” Meta is placing its bets on, are the “publics” it chooses to ignore.

Meta by Design

Facebook Meta logo animation © Facebook

These rebrands can be necessitated for business, reputation, technology or compliance reasons and can help achieve some very strategic goals and initiate future roadmaps. Almost all these reasons ca be invoked when looking at the recent Facebook rebrand to Meta, rolled out abruptly and comprehensively at a global level to much coverage and publicity.

Meta’s rebrand is another example of how a company and the brands it owns, can have separate histories, narratives and objectives. 

A rebrand amid crisis, or to signal a shift in positioning is not new.  Examples abound, from Alphabet which owns Google, among others, to tobacco company Philip Morris’s parent renaming itself Altria to expand its story beyond tobacco. British Petroleum, on its merger with American Amoco, eventually became ‘Beyond Petroleum’ (shortened to BP) as a way to signal a new environmental outlook.  

Rebranding takes shape through specific pillars like the name, and the web domain name.

Meta comes from the Greek word meaning ‘beyond’ – a not so subtle reference to the technology it aims to build, and that it hopes will be its future beyond the current crop of social media apps, Facebook included.  It also separates Meta from the controversies and issues faced by a product like Facebook. Renaming the parent Meta underlines its newly defined purpose of building a Platform to host the digital interconnectedness between people at work and leisure.

Critiquing the logo, It has to be said that the visual branding of Meta and its vision for technology, seems to have left a lot of options off the table. Taking a straightforward route,  this image shows the plain similarity of the stylised M to a number of other prominent logos employing the infinity metaphor.

Such conceptual echoing is not uncommon however, and it is hard to cross-check existing logos beyond a point. In spite of that, the Meta logo does leave one with the sense of a rushed path to branding design approval.

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