For nearly two decades, experiential marketing has held firm an axiom that helped create its raison d’etre: “The more digital, the more physical.” Or, in other words, “The more URL, the more IRL.”
As the marketing ecosystem becomes increasingly digital-centric, brands and businesses need to create physical interactions, such as conferences, events, in-store activations, street stunts and the like.
Much attention in experiential marketing is (rightly) being paid to AR, VR, XR and other hyper-reality, metaverse tools. But equal weight should be given to web 3 communities centered on decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) such as NFTs, digital currencies, index funds and tokenized communities.
Board Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) released 10,000 NFTs at the end of April. Recently, just one Bored Ape (#7090) sold at Sotheby’s for $2.9 million. Another NFT series called CryptoPunk is worth even more; in June, one single CryptoPunk sold for $11.7 million at Sotheby’s. The combined market cap of 10,000 CryptoPunks is now estimated at close to $2 billion.
Bored Ape and CryptoPunk owners (both individuals and fractional) have voting rights over what the community does, including how to spend its money. A lot of that spending will be done in the real world. Why else would CryptoPunks creators Larva Labs sign a deal with United Talent Agency in August of 2021? Or why would Yuga Labs, the creator of BAYC, partner with high-profile manager Gary Oseary, who represents popular artists such as Britney Spears, Doja Cat, Kim Petras, The Weeknd and Madonna? Recent rumors suggest that BAYC – a URL community – will open an IRL club in Miami, only for its members.
As DAO communities continue to form, they will need opportunities to meet IRL. The more people own fractions of NFTs, they will need conferences and meet-ups to connect with their co-owners. Think ComicCon for characters and content developed in the metaverse.
Friends With Benefits (FWB), a DAO community for crypto enthusiasts and content creators, recently received $10 million in VC funding that values the community at over $100 million. What once was a $75 membership costs close to $8,000. There are 1,235 members and 200 new ones are buying in (at a 40% acceptance rate) every week. FWB is creating a conference and local meet-ups for its members that congregate on Discord, but want to meet IRL.
Currently, chatter for these communities occurs primarily on Discord and on “CryptoTwitter” — a niche community of developers, investors, companies and influencers who enjoy discussing cryptocurrencies. These two dominant URL platforms will inevitably need IRL components.
Artists are using NFTs to activate, energize and reward their fans while cutting out labels and agents. Selling songs or digital art as NFTs gives artists direct access to their audiences and lends fans unprecedented participatory power. Owning an NFT may allow for meet-and-greets, entry into secret shows and chats, merchandise drops and other perks normally dictated by agents, labels, promoters and sponsors. Artists will still need to create IRL events, concerts and gallery showings, but they won’t be dependent on labels or sponsors.
All of this should excite and worry experiential agencies, which now have an opportunity to create events for web 3 communities and artists, not just brands. But they need to learn an entirely new ecosystem with its own rules and motivations. If agencies can’t navigate these burgeoning communities, the communities themselves will find ways to activate IRL.
Why hire an agency to bring on brand ambassadors, for instance, if they have their own die-hard community of evangelists incentivized by tokens or NFTs? Why would Friends With Benefits need to find talent when it can create sub-groups of experts within its own membership base? These communities have local expertise spread across the world and they can frictionlessly incentivize freelancers and vendors to activate their IRL ideas.
Thankfully, there are web 3 communities that can guide agencies and marketers through this new landscape. One is Jump, where over 150 marketing and advertising professionals are talking, link-sharing and organizing at a frantic pace.
Experiential agencies need to keep up as well. After all, with the uncertainty of shutdowns ever-looming and a crunch for new talent, web 3 may be it’s savior.
Max Lenderman is CEO of Mudfarm Ventures and a teacher at Denver Ad School and University of Colorado, Boulder.