Agencies are figuring out how to safely guide brands through the wild world of NFTs

Marketers face challenges like making the NFT experience user-friendly and engaging with the community in relevant ways.
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Taco Bell

· 5 min read

Many marketing campaigns involving non-fungible tokens seem fleeting. They’re announced, they generate headlines, and then they fade, often involving digital art that’s been minted as an NFT to prove its authenticity and then auctioned off on platforms like Rarible or OpenSea.

As brands look to get in on the non-fungible-token (NFT) action, agencies are figuring out how to advise clients on the technology’s use cases, barriers to entry, and how to properly engage with its extremely online community.

The brands really were at it this year. Pizza Hut Canada issued images of pixelated pizza slices as a way to promote new recipes. Taco Bell sold GIFs and images related to its brand as NFTs. Charmin auctioned off three pieces of art it called “NFTPs” (non-fungible toilet paper). DKNY created a new version of its logo and auctioned it off as an NFT. Navigating new waters can be treacherous. And the agencies want to help.

Sosti Ropaitis, executive vice president at MediaLink said such executions are largely a way for brands to experiment in a nascent space.

“The reason that I should be paying attention as a marketer is not because it’s something that creates headlines, but because it might just be a future capability,” Ropaitis said.

On top of that, agency execs tell us, a brand that doesn’t ~try~ to address something in the zeitgeist, can appear out-of-touch.

“Cultural capital is our currency. So if we don’t do something right away, you fear that you might be seen as a laggard in the space,” Craig Elimeliah, executive creative director at the agency VMLY&R, told us.

Earlier this year, his agency created three NFTs that the snack brand Goldfish gave away to promote a collaboration with Frank’s RedHot. Elimeliah said the agency continues to have conversations with clients about possibilities with NFTs.

“It’s quite common for brands to want to jump on something really quickly to say, ‘Hey, look at us we’re cool with it. We're cultural,’” Elimeliah said. “Other times I think they do it with an intention of better understanding how that new shiny object might benefit the brand.”

He added that the brand stampede toward NFTs is also the result of the low cost to make and list the digital assets: “It’s not like having to build a website for a $100,000 or do a video for $50,000,” Elimeliah said.

However much money marketers are spending, the NFT ecosystem is growing. A report from showed that the volume of NFT transactions was more than $754 million in Q2 of this year, a 48% jump from Q1. Of those sales, 66% were tied to collectibles. The rest was split among art, gaming, metaverse, sports, and other transactions.

Explaining it to the normies

NFTs are still at the stage where the non-tech-savvy population face barriers to entry. For example, most of the tokens are traded on the Ethereum blockchain, which means you’d need to know how to open and use an Ethereum wallet through a service like MetaMask. To someone who doesn’t know what any of that means, NFTs are still just pixelated pizza.

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“It’s incumbent upon the brand that’s activating to either smooth out that barrier or educate the customers so that at least there’s some degree of understanding of what you’re engaging in,” Ropaitis said. “The brands that have done it right have built their own environments, sometimes even their own blockchain.”

Ropaitis pointed to NBA Top Shot as an example of an NFT project that doesn’t require users to fall down a blockchain rabbit hole. The site is a marketplace to buy and sell video clips of moments from the basketball league. The cards, technically speaking, are NFTs, but the website is practically devoid of jargon that could confuse potential users. The NBA worked with blockchain company Dapper Labs to build the platform, and the resulting experience feels like regular old e-commerce, Ropaitis said.

“The mechanics of it is really nothing new,” he said. “It’s just that in the old world, I would go and buy a deck of playing cards hoping that I get my rare Michael Jordan card that I could trade.”

For brands, the marketing opportunity of NFTs might similarly involve converting real-world concepts to the virtual one. Some of the digital art that brands have sold can actually be worn by characters in “metaverse” games like Decentraland and Sandbox—as with an NFT bubble jacket sold by Coca-Cola.

The metaverse—which loosely means the virtual spaces where people spend time and interact—has emerged as a prominent buzzword in recent months. But in practice, it’s still somewhat of a niche concept. A recent report from Wunderman Thompson found only 38% of global consumers had even heard of the metaverse.

“That speaks to the culture of consumers that believe that their online identity is a lot more valuable to them than their offline identity,” Ropaitis said. “They would spend more money on a digital sneaker versus a physical sneaker because they spend more time during the day and engage with friends virtually.”

Blending in with the cool kids

Most brands tread lightly on the web these days. And while there are a few mavericks, companies understand that by parachuting into online communities, they run the risk of showing off their often tone-deaf ears.

“Brands should be very comfortable with allowing experts in the community to shape what their response or what their expression in the metaverse should be,” Ropaitis said. “The moment they try and force their brand standards and guidelines and rigidity in the metaverse, it becomes intrusive.”

On the flip side, NFT and metaverse enthusiasts can get excited about recognizable name brands getting involved in their communities, Elimeliah said.

“Those communities enjoy the legitimacy of big brands stepping into their playgrounds,” he said. “I think that the cryptocurrency-blockchain-NFT world is starving for attention and starving for legitimacy. And I think any brand willing to go there is actually going to be quite welcomed.”

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