Marketing Agencies: Don't F**k Up NFTs
Like the "Real Time Marketing" craze in 2013, there is no card yet imagined that the marketing services industry will not overplay.
I started thinking about how agencies will handle NFTs last year when the hyperkinetic Don Lapre of Marketing nabbed a keynote slot at Consensus, the crypto industry’s biggest stage.
“Here comes the neighborhood,” I thought.
(For those of you who didn’t watch a lot of late-night basic cable in the 1990s, this was Don Lapre. Now that I think of it, a variation of his schtick about “tiny classified ads” did work out pretty well for Google.)
By way of lightly fictionalized example, here’s a tactical reality of the marketing agency business:
You’re the VP of marketing for Tyrell Corporation. After a long evaluation process, you select the Fowler Schocken agency to plan and execute your campaign for the upcoming Nexus-7 model.
Fowler Schocken develops a campaign that involves driving audiences to a microsite, that is, a campaign-specific website that isn’t on the official Tyrell web domain. Say, “getthenexus7.com.” Agencies often do this, and with the permission of the client, because it’s too often faster than the administrative mother-may-I of getting a URL on the client’s primary domain.
The campaign goes live and it is ragingly successful. Tyrell’s check clears, Fowler Schocken wins a bunch of awards. And then…
Well, the campaign has ended. Everyone who wants a Nexus-7 has one by now. No one needs that microsite anymore. It goes from website to cobweb-site within the year. In about two years, the domain name isn’t renewed. Maybe gets bought by a hopeful domain-flipper.
Marketing agencies, and the marketing departments that hire them, don’t have a duty-of-care when it comes to cleaning up after themselves after they’ve plastered the Internet with ephemeral campaigns. They’ve digitally wheatpasted the flyer to every online phone pole and aren’t much concerned about what time, the elements, and the next wheatpasted flyer will do to that work. I know of one company that paid to have a global audit of its web properties and found more than 150 abandoned sites.
But microsites? All of that and so much more is old-and-busted. The new hotness is NFTs — Non-Fungible Tokens or, put another way, truly own-able digital artifacts.
Consumers think they’re getting a digital collectable that’s as real as Grandma’s assortment of pewter spoons. But what happens if you trust this technology’s core promise in the hands of a marketing agency that just wants to get to the next award or case study?
For those not in the trade, promotion and advancement at marketing agencies works a lot it reportedly does in the U.S. Air Force — it helps a lot when you’re tied to the latest technology trend or fad. One person’s F-22 Raptor is another’s “Dunk in the Dark.” (And how many stercoraceous attempts to ape the original “real-time marketing” stunt absolutely littered the Internet for the next two years?)
In the scramble to be the one seen by a firm’s leadership who “gets it,” such climbers and strivers often misunderstand (through carelessness or intent) the technology or trend that they are championing.
“NFTs! They’re permanent! I mean… They’re on the blockchain!”
Well, your mileage may vary. In most cases, the NFT that an audience member holds is merely a kind of deed to an off-chain Internet resource. The asset at the other end of that address is very often hosted and stored by a centralized entity, with varying levels of trust and reliability.
Over the past year, I’ve pointed folks to this excellent explainer in The Defiant by Dan Kahan. Every agency needs to read this to know what they are getting into.
If marketing agencies don’t do a good job of assessing NFTs beyond the “so hot right now” Mugatu thesis, they could risk doing to this technology what Noah’s Arcade did to the Wayne’s World theme.
So, to those agencies, I say this:
No, you aren’t above knowing how the technology works. I’ve seen too many of you stumble through attempts to convey authority on topics those of us deep in this space already know well. Read that Defiant piece. Twice.
Think really hard about what digital permanence and self-custody actually mean. When you’re talking about NFTs, are you really meeting your audiences where they are?
Think beyond the immediate campaign. NFTs allow for some pretty amazing ways to deliver ongoing brand experiences to audiences. It’s more than just a cute JPEG. Ask whether your idea or objective are the equal of the technology you’re using, or if they can be realized through more conventional means.
I can count on one hand (maybe two) the number people who I believe have earned the stripes to call me and “just pick my brain,” especially as they bill that time back to their client and I end up with a cool story to tell. For the rest of you, there’s this newsletter. You’re here. Are you a subscriber? Sign up and tell your friends and colleagues!
BUSINESS: “The Rise and Fall of the Management Visionary Behind Zappos,” The Wall Street Journal (2022) — Coming a year-and-a-half after Tony Hsieh’s passing, this piece is an excerpt from the book Happy at Any Cost. I never knew the man, myself, but I made it a point to visit his Downtown Project when I was in Vegas several years ago. Came away with a rather profound sadness, even at the project’s peak, similar to when you’re at a party and everyone is trying too hard to look like they’re having a good time. Very sad story, but with a lot of lessons.
SOCIETY: “It's Not Your Fault You're a Jerk on Twitter,” Wired (2002) — No… Make no mistake. It is absolutely, totally your fault. This essay does little to deliver on its premise. But it does provide an overview of two very misunderstood cases on online harassment.
MEDIA: “Escape the echo chamber,” Aeon (2022) — I make it a point to consume media from sources I’m not likely to agree with. It’s an exercise that I recommend to anyone. (For starters, try reading the editorial board op/eds from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on any given day.) Holding the opinions I do, this is often very easy for me. Generally speaking, I find left-wing writing too in love with its own academically laundered jargon and right-wing writing insufferably paranoid and sclerotic, all of which count among the many reasons why I identify with neither camp. This Aeon essay here perhaps makes its biases too obvious, but the exploration of the issue is what’s most important rather than attempting to interrogate its source.
Are you religious? Work in the data-entry trade? Do your hobbies include watching TV? And do you live in a town? You just might be the most boring person in the world. Here comes the science.