NFTs could revolutionize marketing and communications

Blockchain underscored virtual non-fungible tokens are currently dominated by digital art, but it won’t be long before brands get on board and explore the myriad possibilities of this new storytelling environment.

NFTs could be the next Second Life or fuel a fundamental revolution in branding and marketing. (Pic: Getty Images.)
NFTs could be the next Second Life or fuel a fundamental revolution in branding and marketing. (Pic: Getty Images.)

New technology and new environments – especially social media – play an increasingly large role in communicating, marketing and branding.

Twitter made its latest play yesterday, announcing on an analyst call that it will be introducing a new feature called Super Follows that will allow users to charge followers to access content and create groups based around specific interests.

To be fair, tech innovations have always informed cutting-edge marketing. Creators and storytellers tend to be on the cutting edge of innovation by virtue of their curiosity and desire to break new boundaries.

Sometimes these innovations completely change our world, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and, more recently, Instagram, TikTok, gaming and Snap – sometimes they sink without trace after a brief period of notoriety.

I well remember a colleague of mine on a previous marketing title I edited writing an op-ed in 2007 provocatively headlined ‘Digital zealots in danger of fueling a reprise of 1999’.

His premise was that the froth and excitement in the digital marketing world was overheating again. He took aim at the latest craze among marketers supposedly in the know, Second Life, highlighting the predominance of dubious content on the avatar-based platform and noting:

“Yet this hasn't stopped blue-chip corporations rushing to gatecrash the party, like an embarrassing dad on the wedding banquet dance floor. Visa is the latest to buy an island on Second Life, though it still hasn't worked out what to do with it.”

He ended the piece with the prescient and classic payoff line, which is still one of my favorites:

“Second Life, get a life!”

In hindsight, his premonition proved well-founded. Second Life is still around and has a loyal, if relatively small user base. But it never took off as a place where brands and marketers could effectively tell their stories and take part in engaging activations. And maybe it’s all the better for that. Maybe any place is better for that.

Either way, it is with some hesitation that I dip my toe into the latest virtual environments getting everyone excited on places like Clubhouse, Discord and Substack: NFTs, crypto and metaverses.

I’m sure I’m super late to the game and the hard-core enthusiasts will smile knowingly at these first haltering steps of an embarrassing uncle into the discussion, pat the mainstream media on the head and ask “What took you so long?”

I plead guilty to that. But I believe many communicators and marketers are in the same boat. And this piece is aimed mainly at opening up basic awareness of the new formats and encouraging discussion and elevation of the possibilities – which I believe are extremely exciting.

These newish concepts put some meat on the AR, VR and AI bones, meshing with Blockchain and alternate digital realities where people are now able to conduct most of the things they do in their daily lives.

COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has fast-forwarded these concepts, as many folks are already living in an alternate physical reality defined by their own four walls – one previously inhabited mostly by gamers, loners and those confined to their homes for other reasons.

Let’s start at the beginning and concentrate on NFTs for the time being.

According to Matthew Chaim, on the One37pm blog, NFTs – or non-fungible tokens – are a type of token that will completely revolutionize entire industries by changing the way we share and consume everything.

If that is true, then clearly everyone involved in communications, marketing, branding and, well, business per se will need to understand them.

Chaim has the rare ability to explain complex subjects in simple-to-understand terms, so I recommend checking out his article if you’re interested in finding out more about NFTs.

He goes on to say that a “fungible” asset refers to something that is interchangeable with another unit of that same asset, such as a U.S. dollar bill - two different pieces of paper that represent the same value.

Blockchain technology allows for the creation and distribution of tokens, such as Bitcoin - a fungible token in that one bitcoin equals one bitcoin, just like the dollar bill example. 

In direct comparison, a non-fungible asset refers to something of distinct value, in which no two items are the same, such as a house, car, piece of art, sneaker, clothing and so on.

The non-fungible token part of the equation is where things get really interesting, adds Chaim. They enable the creation of digital certificates that represent a unique asset and can be attached to anything, including digital photos, videos, audio or text.

The NFT creates a proof of origin, authenticity and ownership of the digital asset that allows the tokens to be owned, bought, sold and traded.

So you could have an original image of a sneaker or a piece of jewelry or a video of a buzzer-beating basketball shot and register it as yours. No matter how many times that image is copied and distributed, you own the original authentic copy, just as you have the original of a painting and thousands or printed copies made.

Blockchain and distributed blockchain platforms such as Ethereum store embedded metadata and transaction histories are wholly verifiable.

Most NFT applications up to now have revolved around digital art, collectibles, gaming, digital land and so on. Top Shots of sporting moments have become one of the most high-profile examples.  

There is even a much enhanced and modernized version of a Second Life-style virtual world called SuperWorld, where users can buy, sell, collect, and curate over 64 billion plots of land.

The SuperWorld virtual real estate platform exists on Ethereum. It maps the entire globe, allowing users to purchase any place on Earth, from skyscrapers and stadiums to historical monuments and the wonders of the natural world.

Users can also search for, share, and create AR content and place it anywhere in the world, such as photos, videos, 3D objects and animation, and build new social communities as they explore via interactive experiences.

The platform created a unique digital asset called a SuperWorld Virtual Real Estate token. Every plot of virtual real estate is a collectible and distinct NFT that can be bought, sold, traded or held. It moves the NFT concept beyond collectibles into a digital asset market.

The creative options for including NFTs in marketing and branding are huge. Initially fashion, luxury, music and sports. Eventually, I could see every pair of sneakers or other products being sold with an NFT. I can see NFTs being integrated into sales promotions and competitions, or collectible exclusives.

I can see brands setting up on SuperWorld or integrating communities within the virtual environments, like Wendy’s did for its Cannes-winning ‘Keeping Fortnite Fresh’ activation – only much more effectively. The possibilities are endless.

I could be a digital zealot or the embarrassing uncle at the wedding, but I genuinely believe this area has massive potential for marketers and storytellers. We’ll do more on this on PRWeek in the coming months, so reach out with brand perspectives and activations, case studies and opinions.

“SuperWorld? Get on board!”

*Dashboard Daily is PRWeek's essential guide to communications technology for PR professionals. It keeps communicators up to date with important developments in modern PR, across social media analytics, media monitoring services, newswires, content newsrooms, private equity, social media management, in-house client teams and PR agencies. Pitch feedback, stories and ideas to dashboard@prweek.com.

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