Wavelength met with Zoe Scaman, founder of Bodacious studios, to talk multiplayer brands, magpie minds, the future of fandom and more, in this second of a three-part series on AI
Zoe Scaman began her career writing pay-per-click ads for a pornography website. Thanks to what she calls “right place, right time,” from there she built a career in advertising, which ultimately took her to Australia where she worked on the iconic “Share a Coke” campaign, and ended up running strategy for filmmaker Ridley Scott.
She’s now founded her own strategy studio which works with some of the most creative and innovative organisations in the world including Nike, EA Games and Unilever, helping them to figure out how to adapt to a world fuelled by the possibilities of generative AI.
She’s currently developing a concept called the “multiplayer brand” which relates to the next phase of user-generated content. The advent of social media compelled brands to develop a personality and perspective so that they could interact directly with customers in real time. The old parameters of brand ownership were shifted, and new generative AI tools are pushing those boundaries further again. “The next phase is going to be a lot more complex and a lot more interesting”, said Scaman.
At the vanguard of the “multiplayer brand” idea are gaming companies who are developing tools and products that allow users (customers, fans) to make their own experiences that live under the brand banner. “Epic, the makers of Fortnight, have something called Unreal Engine which allows you to create entire 3D worlds from scratch relatively easily. Teenagers are making games on Roblox that become 50 million dollar businesses using the Roblox editing suite.”
The impact is that younger generations understand creation as play – meaning that games, or even movies, with a set narrative developed by a studio and provided for consumers to enjoy may not be enough anymore. As they get older, Scaman asks, “will they want brands to just vomit stuff at them and they just passively consume it? Or do they want brands to become toolkits?” She cites an example from a film company called The Simulation, which demonstrated a tool at the Venice Film Festival 2023 which generates bespoke episodes of South Park according to user prompts.
Scaman is convinced that the multiplayer concept is also relevant for organisations that don’t think of themselves as entertainment companies per se, creating opportunities to enhance how automotive brands personalise driving experiences and how hotel companies personalise different customers’ sensory experiences.
For all the excitement and potential of the new technology, Scaman concedes that “it’s hugely risky.” Handing over your brand to your customers would have been an anathema to most marketers as recently as last year. “It’s about picking specific projects, it might be that you go out to a closed, hand picked group of people and you give them some assets and you see how it goes.” Nike’s dot.swoosh platform is a public experiment in exactly this, where people can take the 3D file from Air Force Ones and use them to design virtual shoes and apparel as part of a growing virtual Nike digital world. She goes on, “Make it small initially, have a hypothesis, validate or invalidate it and then go from there.”
This new approach to brand ownership has very real implications for how companies think about IP. Scaman’s interest in fandom, and what makes fans different from consumers, was inspired by her work for Ridley Scott on properties such as Bladerunner and Alien. “They are groups of people who are creative as a result of their love of a particular IP… building on belief systems, rules and language and hierarchy…” Star Trek, Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, BTS are great examples. Fandoms feel a deep sense of ownership over the worlds they’re creating so the legal IP owners need to tread carefully when seeking to monetise – cynical attempts to cash in will invite a backlash.
It may seem as though Zoe’s career has only ever progressed on an upward trajectory, but she’s had her fair share of challenges, starting with being excluded from school at the age of 16. “School didn’t work for me. I didn’t understand why everything was so linear. I was constantly in detention for talking back.” Zoe puts this down to her “magpie mind” – an idea she developed after reading David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialist World which recognises and cherishes the ability to jump between and draw from different categories and disciplines to help solve problems faster. Knuckling down and perfecting one way of working may have served us well in the past, but as generative AI changes the rules about what’s possible, Scaman senses a shift.
She’s currently working with the Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, on a project to define the skills that Gen Alpha, now aged 13 and younger, need to be learning to excel in the workforce of the 2030s and beyond. She lists these as collaboration, perseverance, problem solving, emotional regulation and social curiosity. As established businesses set about weathering the next phase of disruption, these are skills that will serve business leaders well, too.