The Defiant

"Marketers Should Know This About NFTs: Respect the Culture:" By Clyde F. Smith

Successful NFT Marketing Combines Cultural Awareness With Established Skill Sets Image: Fewocious and Digital Sneakers Courtesy RTFKT The recent release by Taco Bell of a series of crypto art pieces and the deep dive by Gary Vaynerchuk into all things NFT signals the entry of corporate marketing into NFT Land. Though not the first indications of corporate…

By: Clyde F. Smith Loading...

"Marketers Should Know This About NFTs: Respect the Culture:" By Clyde F. Smith

Successful NFT Marketing Combines Cultural Awareness With Established Skill Sets


Image:  Fewocious and Digital Sneakers Courtesy RTFKT

The recent release by Taco Bell of a series of crypto art pieces and the deep dive by Gary Vaynerchuk into all things NFT signals the entry of corporate marketing into NFT Land. Though not the first indications of corporate interest in NFTs, these two events suggest that non-fungible tokens will be the hot new tech option for marketing experiments. Though this new terrain may initially seem daunting, mainstream marketers have many relevant skills at their disposal.

The early 2021 explosion of interest in NFTs was hard to avoid. Even an extremely traditional corporate marketing exec could not miss the involvement of such figures as Mark Cuban and Elon Musk as well as an increasingly visible array of leading musicians. Whether major corporations view NFTs as a potential revenue center remains to be seen. However, NFTs as marketing tools seem likely to be used as broadly as any new tech from an emergent subculture.

Taco Bell Introduces NFTacoBell

On March 8th, many in the Crypto Art Twitter community were surprised by the appearance of Taco Bell ads “ Introducing NFTacoBell” in their feeds and a link to a Taco Bell  Rarible account. There they discovered a variety of playfully artistic takes on Taco Bell products sold as NFTs. As of the writing of this article, the top bid for a  Transformative Taco NFT was 2.5 WETH valued at over 4500 USD.

Though some cutting comments did appear, the overall response to NFTacoBell from crypto artists seemed more positive than not. Perhaps the commercial aspirations of NFT artists made them more receptive to Taco Bell’s interest than, say, the response of indie musicians at SXSW upon learning of the first fast food sponsored showcase.

It is also possible an appreciation for the absurd combined with a desire to go mainstream created a more welcoming response from artists. It likely helped that NFTacoBell debuted on an open platform known for hosting such phenomena as “Trash Art.”

Taco Bell’s introductory tweet was a modest success with, to date, 436 retweets and a little over 2000 likes. Coverage appeared in business, advertising and tech news and while some simply labeled it another sign of hype, this relatively simple campaign revealed Taco Bell’s ability to participate in an emerging phenomena in a manner that did not yell out, “ How do you do, fellow kids?

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Image:  NFTacoBell Twitter Ad

Gary Vaynerchuk Goes All In

GaryVee appeared on the NFT Twitter scene a bit differently than other business celebs. Mark Cuban jumped in and seemed engaged but a bit distant. Elon Musk pops in on occasion but his partner Grimes does the heavy lifting. GaryVee, on the other hand, quickly made it clear he was going all in.

GaryVee’s  current tweeting makes him seem somewhat obsessed with NFTs and he recently discussed “ Why I’m Going to be Involved with NFT’s for the Rest of My Life” on his podcast, The GaryVee Audio Experience. His media appearances now always include talk of NFTs even if the interview focus is elsewhere. His immersive approach positions VaynerMedia well for NFTs as a long-term phenomenon.

At an early point in his engagement with crypto artists on Twitter, some artists called GaryVee out saying they felt he did not acknowledge the community that already existed in the space. Unlike so many celebrities, Vaynerchuk took these accusations seriously. He ultimately appeared on two podcasts by crypto artists,  The Outer Realm and  NFP with DKleine. His efforts have earned him a level of acceptance other big names have not achieved.

Takeaways From NFTacoBell and GaryVee

The most important takeaway from NFTacoBell and Gary Vaynerchuk is that any advertiser or marketer entering NFT Land should get to know the terrain and act accordingly. Taco Bell likely worked with an independent agency with expertise and gave them room to breathe. GaryVee likely has support from staff members but seems honestly enthusiastic and appears to have put in the work needed to understand the world of NFTs.

Taco Bell may not do more with NFTs but they received a positive reception in a niche community not unlike Red Bull’s early extreme sports community marketing efforts. GaryVee is clearly in for the long-term and is likely to benefit greatly from corporate interest in this new world. Respecting the culture was their ticket to initial success.

Here are two examples of how other marketers are working with NFTs. For those feeling a bit lost, looking back at corporate marketing engagement with indie music will provide additional examples of how to proceed. Note that all these entry points were preceded by a history of successful efforts with earlier subcultures.


Image:  FEWO Physical Sneakers Courtesy RTFKT

Feed Your Superfans: Sneakerheads

Nike remains the leading brand for sneaker superfans known as sneakerheads. Given that sneakerheads often collect as many or more pairs than they actually wear, one might think that the collectible aspects of NFTs would attract them. So it may seem surprising that even though Nike received a  patent for CryptoKick, an NFT for digital sneaker collectibles, the company has not yet experimented in this realm.

Nike’s absence is noted in a recent  Wall St. Journal piece on NFTs and fashion that features a collaboration between much loved crypto artist Fewocious and the RTFKT design studio. The resulting drop, utilizing Nifty Gateway as a release platform, featured  three sneaker designs plus  two additional NFTs, a fanciful figure wearing a pair and a FEWO Charm bracelet. There is an upcoming  physical sneaker release as well but the NFTs were the focus of initial attention.

There is much to learn from the FEWO episode that Nike could take to heart. First, the campaign was a collaboration between a savvy agency and a noted crypto artist conducted on a leading NFT platform known for quick sales and high prices. The similarity to sneakers from major brands created through collaborations with guest designers, athletes and other celebrities and then released as special events is notable. In fact, companies like Nike and Adidas already have much of the expertise required for such a campaign.

Sponsor A Contest: Designers

The  MakingStrides Design Competition is an excellent example of Adidas sponsoring a campaign in which NFTs are the only truly new element. The collaboration between  Karlie Kloss x Adidas x The Fabricant resulted in a digital fashion collection on KnownOrigin, one of the leading crypto art platforms.

The Fabricant’s expertise in these intersecting worlds is a fresh combination and allowed them to bring the pieces together. But otherwise the participants are known quantities using established skill sets by all involved parties.

Twenty designers were chosen via the contest to be featured in the  MakingStrides collection on KnownOrigin. An opportunity to donate to Kode With Klossy, an organization providing free coding camps for young women and girls, was another feature. As in the above campaigns, this competition showed a strong awareness of crypto art and NFT culture.

The Tech Is Fresh But Established Approaches Can Succeed

These examples reveal that, though NFTs may be a very new technological development, established marketing departments and agencies are well prepared to make use of this tech. Lessons learned from previous experiences with emerging subcultures and skill sets developed through collaboration and team efforts provide a solid basis for engagement with NFT culture. Once one accepts the concept of NFTs as digital collectibles with in-built provenance, the marketing opportunities suddenly become both endless and familiar.

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