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Why brands and businesses are missing the point on NFTs

We've seen unashamed cash grabs galore. Is there any merit in NFTs or are they just 2022's e-Ponzi Scheme? asks Grey London social strategist

By Joshua Hood

It was only a matter of time until football - the most extreme example of capitalism gone wild - jumped into the world of NFTs.

Footballers are launching NFT collections in an effort to “bring football to the blockchain”.

Yes, you read that right.

The why? is very clear. It’s an easy cash grab, monetising fans and using their passion for their heroes to make a quick crypto-buck.

However, once again this presents the world of NFTs as another get rich quick Ponzi-scheme, rather than a chance to build long-term relationships with communities as you strive to achieve something together.

In that respect, it is utterly unsurprising that football completely misunderstands the point of communities / fans and just sees them as large bags of money. This has been happening in football for decades, with fans continually bled for as much as they can possibly spend in order to support their favourite team. The disdain football as a business has for fans can be seen in the distances fans have to travel to support their team - UEFA trying to host the 2021 Champions League final between Chelsea and Man City in Istanbul being a prime example. Now you might not even see the match take place, with clubs calling off games at a moment’s notice for their own benefit, sometimes after fans have set off on their odyssey.

This is just one example. There are many more, including annual new kit launches which serve no purpose other than to encourage fans to spend £70 a year on a new shirt. Less said about the sustainability credentials of the clubs - and manufacturers - creating the annual new kit launches the better.

But I digress. Let’s move back online to the world of NFTs, where we can see a fundamental misunderstanding of their appeal, and their future purpose.

At this point, it’s important to note that I am not against NFTs. In fact, I support them in the purpose of creator-ownership and community-led missions.

This is the central point of why NFTs have value, and why just minting any old thing (like pictures of Ashes heroes compiled by Simon Hughes) reeks of a cash grab and not a long term commitment to communities.

Take these Ashes Heroes: what is the long term plan? How can I as a member of this NFT community use these online? Why should I be part of your journey?

One of the core parts of an NFT launch is the Roadmap. It’s what differentiates a cash grab from brand building.

I think even candidates on the Apprentice might suggest an additional level of scrutiny is applied to this roadmap…

However there are true long term opportunities within the NFT world to build a community and include them in the creative future of the brand - because let’s not forget, the most successful NFT projects are an exercise in brand building as much as jpegs of apes.

Zoe Scaman made a very good point. When we consider the opportunities NFTs present, we think of them through a gaming lens. This is in part because gaming currently has the most tangible examples of digital currency value (skins, character customisation etc).

Interoperability is the idea that everything online will be linked. Think Ready Player One, where you can take your avatar around the digital world with everything you’ve made them. They’re the true essence of the digital you.

Currently, this is fantasy. Games are built on different engines (Epic’s Unreal Engine vs. Microsoft’s Slipspace Engine as one example), let alone the licensing negotiations between businesses that have more cash than most countries. It’s a pipe-dream that very well may never happen.

But there is something in the realms of fashion that give a true purpose to NFTs. Owning a custom pair of digital Air Force 1s which you can wear on your Snapchat avatar forever, offers true digital value.

Imagine if Gucci build a Discord server for a future collection which is integrated into your Twitter profile pic. Their Discord members could have access to the collection at launch, and then help grow the future of the collection by discussing everything from the colour schemes to how it sits on their digital photo.

The opportunity for collaboration between audiences and brands has never been better, and audiences are crying out for it.

This example creates a community that has skin in the game and feels part of the launch, and will continue to drive the project forward not because of the value of the NFTs, but because they’re involved in the creative process of the project.

Ultimately this is what brands have to realise about NFTs - and social in general - moving forward. Unless they’re creating an opportunity for audiences to truly participate in their campaign, then they just won’t care. Everything we’re doing with our clients at Grey is around creating culturally relevant experiences.

If it’s not culturally relevant, why would the audience care? If you’re just trying to push your own brand story without any thought of the medium used to tell your audience, then they’re going to just scroll past.

And that’s all we do nowadays. Endlessly scroll until we find something that’s worth sharing, the ad-break ends or someone rings us on Teams.

Like great brands, great NFTs are the ones which create relevance for audiences. That’s what we should be watching for.

Joshua Hood is a senior social strategist at Grey London


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