Giant Corporate Brands Ready NFTs for the Metaverse

NFT metaverse concept

While financial journalists have for years (breathlessly) documented the rise of cryptocurrencies–from Elon Musk’s latest tweet to potential regulatory actions to every sudden drop or spike–another blockchain technology has been gaining broad acceptance: non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. According to TradingPlatforms.com, sales of blockchain art, photography, and so-called utility tokens totaled more than $4 billion in 2021–which was up from next to nothing the year before. Transactions on NFT exchange OpenSea, which was recently valued at over $13 billion, accounted for more than three-quarters of these sales, but other marketplaces like LooksRare have also seen demand, and interest, soar.

But what may be most impressive about NFTs is their acceptance among the top echelon of global brands. What began as a motley collection of whimsical animals–Bored Apes, Pudgy Penguins, CryptoKitties, etc., has transformed into a series of branded miniverses selling iconic images, trading cards, and “moments” at price points from several dollars to well over a million. Perhaps the most famous NFT thus far is a piece of digital artwork by the artist Beeple that sold for $69 million at Christie’s Auction House in March of last year. This was the third-most-expensive single art sale by a living artist in history, and perhaps just the beginning.

But NFTs aren’t mainly art, nor are they just ways for speculators to get rich quickly. What big brands seem to have realized with remarkable speed is that both the metaverse and the blockchain offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to make what one brand executive calls “philosophical connections” with consumers via unique digital tokens. Particularly in the age of COVID lockdowns, selling one-of-a-kind, instantly verifiable images allows brands to touch consumers who can no longer visit their stores or attend their events and touch them. And, not unlike owning a unique piece of couture or a car with an individual serial number, corporate NFTs transfer ownership from the brand to the consumer, engendering loyalty for years to come.

Of course, collecting memorabilia is also just plain fun, and savvy brands are amping up the connection by creating challenges, or what marketers have long-termed “calls to action” (CTA), in order to create near-constant engagement with their smartphone-toting, always-connected clientele. Because the metaverse will be made up of a bunch of miniverses, brands want to let consumers know not only that their digital store is open for business but that their neighborhood is dynamic, exciting, and rewarding.   

Unlike most cutting-edge technology, which is first embraced by newcomers, the early adopters of NFTs have been established brands looking for a leg up or a refresh. Indeed, NFTs are uniquely suited to companies that have a long history, i.e., a deep catalog of images, artwork, or even just iconic branding to share. Here’s a list of some of the biggest movers and shakers in NFTs as of the beginning of 2022. Spoiler alert: It may not be who you think, and it may change very quickly!

Article Summary
  1. NBA Top Shot
  2. Topps
  3. Mattel
  4. Taco Bell
  5. Campbells Soup
  6. Associated Press
  7. BTS

NBA Top Shot

No brand has become more associated with NFTs than the National Basketball Association (NBA), with some analysts questioning if the cash flowing from the NBA/Top Shot’s popular “moments” catalog will eventually violate salary caps. In any event, the Top Shot website has proved beyond a doubt that NFT trading can go mainstream. In September, the site’s parent Dapper Labs closed a $250 million funding round at a reported $7.6 billion valuation, while sales of rare “moments” have attracted virtual queues in the hundreds of thousands.

Top Shot’s popularity is partly due to its deep bench of star athletes, but the site has also priced its NFTs to cover a broad range of collectors–from $9 (for a virtual pack of common cards) to $999 (for packs that might contain rarer items and more popular stars). Top Shop has also been a pioneer in the use of challenges, which give its users a way to earn rewards based upon their existing collection. The most common challenges encourage existing cardholders to complete a pack of cards; those that do are eligible to win even more.

Top Shots has become so profitable for some users that its biggest challenge lately has been keeping the site human, i.e., free of bots that can clog up card sales. Up next from Dapper Labs is a series of collectible NFTs from dominant mixed-martial-arts brand Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Topps

Topps, the only baseball card company licensed by Major League Baseball, and a very familiar brand among fans, has a new website, ToppsNFTs.com. Topps was founded in 1938, so it’s got plenty of intellectual property to choose from, though the site has not caught on as quickly as Top Shots.

ToppsNFTs.com also sells digital tokens for gum company Bazooka (home of the iconic Bazooka Joe mini-comic strip) and the German soccer league Bundesliga.

Mattel

It was probably inevitable that high tech would partner up with high fashion at some point, and so we have Mattel’s iconic Barbie doll partnering with French designer Balmain in a line of NFTs featuring “Barbie” dressed up in the high fashion brand’s clothes–all pink, naturally. According to Forbes, one of the first mainstream magazines to cover blockchain, “The partnership has launched a digital campaign depicting the physical RTW [ready-to-wear] and accessories.” So even if you can’t make the runway show or can’t afford the real thing for yourself, you can get your fill of both Barbie and Balmain virtually. But be aware that this is not your grandmother’s Barbie. In the Mattel-averse, Barbie won’t just be blonde and blue-eyed. Balmain Barbies will come in a range of colors and cultures, perhaps reflecting the metaverse’s diversity.

Taco Bell

Unlike fashion, food hardly seems a natural candidate for virtualization, but a couple of big companies are selling NFTs of America’s favorite indulgences anyway. Last March, an NFT titled “Transformative Taco,” which was basically an Andy Warhol-esque, stylized portrait of a taco in three different iterations, sold for the equivalent of $190,000, which is a lot of dinero! No word yet on an NFT Quesalupa, however, or if the buyer has indigestion.

Campbells Soup

A few months after the Taco Bell NFT auction, Campbell’s Soup Company commissioned 100 authenticated NFT art pieces titled ‘AmeriCANa — SOPHIA CHANG X CAMPBELL’S’ to be created by celebrated street-style artist and illustrator, Sophia Chang, and sold exclusively via virtual curato, NTWRK.com. While a soup company that’s been around since 1869 might seem an unlikely NFT issuer, Campbell’s iconic red and white cans had already become an icon of pop culture decades ago when Andy Warhol featured them in a series of paintings. So, the NFT versions are really just a digital spin on a familiar theme for Campbell’s.

Another brand that’s been working with artists recently is LVMH’s Dom Perignon, whose colorful labels by artists from Lady Gaga to Jeff Koons may soon show up in an NFT auction. We’ll see!

Associated Press

Even older than Campbell Soup Company is the Associated Press, a non-profit news agency co-op that frequently breaks important stories and wins international prizes for truth-telling. Now the 175-year-old AP, as it is colloquially known, is launching an NFT site to sell moments captured by its world-renowned photographers. AP says that its initial collection “will feature photography by current and former AP photojournalists and a selection of digitally enhanced depictions of their work.” At least some of its Pulitzer Prize-winning images, many of which are instantly recognizable, will be included on the site. The AP marketplace and its first NFTs are set to debut on Monday, Jan. 31 at https://apmarket.xooa.com/.

BTS

Last but not least, NFTs are coming to the metaverse from the universe of K-Pop, courtesy of the biggest band in the world: BTS. John Kim, who heads the project on behalf of BTS’ parent firm HYBE, recently explained their rationale to The Wall StreetJournal, saying that “NFTs have the potential for expansion and [that band members] hope they will provide fans with more varied experiences and opportunities to express themselves.” After some much-publicized pushback from fans who questioned the environmental impact of the move, BTS is on track to drop its debut NFTs in the first half of this year.

BTS has a long history of non-music blockbusters, having proven an effective marketer of everything from face masks to McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets to Louis Vuitton clothing. Unlike all those items, however, NFTs can be sold and consumed virtually, a major plus since COVID has restricted the band’s touring, which not only generates huge revenues but keeps BTS connected to their tens of millions of fans. Indeed, music NFT tokens may someday replace the traditional collectibles of pop music–like album covers, posters, and CDs–as music continues a transformative shift onto streaming services.

Considering the influence of its existing issuers in the worlds of sports, fashion, food, journalism, and music, NFTs can no longer be considered part of the metaverse but a driving force in its creation. Before long, most of the things we love in the real world will probably be enjoyed in a virtual form as well–or even exclusively so. For now, NFTs are a fun way to collect and trade unique art, make money and perhaps escape reality for a time. For big brands, the blockchain is proving to be a scalable and forgery-proof technology with virtually unlimited potential.

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