7 Apr 2022

Why Kanye's stance on NFTs struck a chord

Nora Bradshaw explains three questions brands should ask before entering the realm of non-fungible tokens. 

Image credit: Axel Antas Bergkv

Normally, I'm like "WTF Kanye," in response to his seemingly never-ending series of stunts, stances, meltdowns and questionable choices. But when it comes to NFTs, he might actually be onto something. 

So, on this one occasion, I agree with Ye. Let me explain. 

In a world where we keep talking about purpose - brand purpose, our individual purpose, every kind of purpose - what's the purpose of NFTs? What do they add to the world? Ultimately, what are NFTs for?

These are tough questions, but they're worth asking especially as we ponder whether NFTs have already reached their full potential. Originally intended to be a digital record of ownership, NFTs have become trendy ways to spend money and acquire intangible "precious" things. 

Their popularity resides in our collective desire for exclusivity and the idea that we - as regular consumers - can be in real conversation with brands. NFTs serve as another proof point behind the decentralized nature of Web3, in which an individual consumer can own a piece of a brand. But to be honest, I'm not sure we're really any closer to understanding what they actually do. 

And it's this confusion, this "void," that Kanye responded to. His statement, written on a piece of paper in black marker which he photographed and shared on Instagram, said: 

MY FOCUS IS ON
BUILDING REAL
PRODUCTS IN THE
REAL WORLD
REAL FOOD

REAL CLOTHES

REAL SHELTER

DO NOT ASK ME

TO DO A F*CKING

NFT

YE
ASK ME LATER

He used just 30 words in total but used the word "real" five times. Part haiku, part mini-manifesto, the statement - in all of its perfect brevity - is a reflection of the fact that investing in the digital world right now isn't going to solve real-world issues. And until NFTs are capable of creating real-world solutions, it's going to stay that way. 

So, let's revisit the idea of utility and potential as it pertains to NFTs. Is it about giving more power to creators? Is it the power to create more diverse "things?"

Here are three questions brands can - and should - ask before entering the realm of NFTs:

How does the promise of a brand or product align with NFTs?

You can make one just to make one (and plenty of brands do), but it’s better if there’s something behind it—a story you can utilize and build upon. So much boils down to meaning and meaningfulness, so don’t lose sight of that.

What is the real benefit of a brand's NFT?

Being part of the conversation and building awareness are arguably less “good” reasons to do an NFT. Yes, notoriety is one avenue to modernize your brand or increase your relevance in the short term. But it’s always best when you can do all of that while also engaging with your audience in a more authentic way. Remember that NFTs are a way to give up control of your brand to (new, ideally diverse) creators and give ownership of your brand to your audience. In that way, they can be truly powerful. They can also be a way to give something of value to your fans and, depending on what it is, it can also create long-term value.

How can NFTs be tangible in the real world?

That’s an oxymoron—but not if an NFT helps consumers connect to something that’s physical—whether it’s an object or a real-world experience. For instance, NFTs can be used to raise money to help real people in the real world, just as crypto fundraising can create real-world impact.

And let's not forget about the fact that NFTs negatively impact our environment. So, while we might not see Patagonia minting an NFT anytime soon, other brands may choose to follow their lead and engage with NFTs by not engaging with them until the underlying technology is less corrosive. Or perhaps they'll choose to use NFTs to generate dollars for sustainability causes in an effort to offset those negatives. 

Above all else, there's a need to get creative, and because this technology is still new we can only guess at its full potential. It's up to us to figure out what's possible and what's not. This means that there is still time for NFTs to do what we dreamed they could and create real-world impact. 

So, in the words of Kanye, "Ask me later."

First published in Ad Age.