Coca-Cola is harnessing its history of collectibles with a first NFT as marketers continue experimenting with the intersection of cryptocurrency and culture.
The Atlanta-based beverage giant is selling a series of four NFTs—known as non-fungible tokens—that will be sold as a single asset with proceeds benefiting Special Olympics International. NFTs are digital assets backed by blockchain technology and have seen quick adoption this year by artists and cryptocurrency enthusiasts alike. Interest in the sector has prompted companies ranging from Pringles to the entertainment brand Superplastic to create NFTs with the hope of tapping into the crypto-cultural zeitgeist.
For its digital asset debut, Coca-Cola partnered with Tafi—a Utah-based startup that makes avatars and other virtual content—to resurrect a pixelated version of Coke’s classic 1956 vending machine. However, instead of cans of soda inside, the “Friendship Box” is meant to be like a “loot box” in video games. Coca-Cola’s own NFT loot box includes a metallic red bubble jacket wearable that is inspired by the company’s old delivery uniforms—but that illuminates with fizz. The series also includes digital versions of Coca-Cola’s 1940s trading cards and a “sound visualizer” that features classic Coke sounds such as a bottle opening and a drink being poured over ice. (Coca-Cola’s auction will begin bidding on July 30 and run through August 2 on OpenSea, online marketplace for NFTs and other crypto collectibles.)
“It really gave us an opportunity to explore the robust space the digital space gives you. This really cool convergence of form and function and aesthetic,” said Joshua Schwarber, senior director of global digital design at Coca-Cola. “So the ability to do things in motion and have artwork come alive or be able to reimagine our assets in new and unique ways to create these multi-sensorial kind of opportunities.”
Coca-Cola has a long track record of creating and selling collectibles in the real world. On the company’s website, a limited edition Norman Rockwell set of four Coca-Cola prints is priced at $400 while a vintage German Trink plastic cooler can be bought for $550. There’s also a Steuben Crystal 125th Anniversary bottle for $275, a 1970 Chevrolet Hauler set for $34.95 and a “First Hundred Years Collector’s Book” for $25.
“We were struck by the fact that the Coca-Cola brand has generated collectability and love over three centuries,” said Tafi President Matt Wilburn. “It’s 1800s, 1900s, and now we’re looking at how do you create an NFT that reflects that brand love over such a period of time. You’re literally creating an NFT which is totally appropriate that it’s timeless—it does not exist in the real world today, but if you’re looking forward to the next century, what does that look like?”
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According to Oana Vlad, Senior Director of global strategy for Coca-Cola’s Trademark division, the NFT space is changing so quickly that the company’s work had to evolve “almost on a daily basis—maybe more quickly than it would on another project.”
As culture moves toward digital worlds, Tafi Chief Operating Officer Ty Duperron thinks people don’t want the same kind of apparel they can already get in real life. The company had already been working Coca-Cola’s physical product team on other digital wearables for Coca-Cola for other brands and platforms. And while they had planned on doing a variety of wearables for the NFT, he said they decided to something “more meaningful than just a fashion piece.”
“We really wanted that beautiful show piece and it evolved into this wearable that reveals another one that generates its own fizz and has its own fluid inside,” Duperron said. “You didn’t have reference points because stuff didn’t exist so we couldn’t just run particle system and call it fizz. There are clear moments and clear ways that fizz needs to react.”
Coca-Cola is just one of numerous notable brands experimenting with NFTs this year. On Wednesday, Campbell’s commissioned the artist Sophia Change to create its first NFT collection that celebrates the soup company’s newly designed label. And while Taco Bell was among the first to jump on the NFT wagon when it released a series of “limited edition” taco NFTs, even luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana have released their own high-fashion NFT collections as recently as this month.
Interest has also prompted marketing agencies to create NFT divisions. Earlier this month, VaynerNFT—a new agency created within VaynerMedia—launched with Anheuser-Busch InBev as the beer giant’s NFT agency of record. (Stella Artois auctioned several NFTs earlier this summer even before its parent company began working with Vayner.)
The stakes are high for branded NFTs because people are more likely to buy one from a celebrity than a company, says Gary Vaynerchuck—the cofounder and CEO of VaynerMedia known for his quick adoption of digital platforms. That means companies will have to compete on merit by having the right assets and the right “cultural cachet.” And while he’s bullish on NFTs overall, Vaynerchuck predicts that most branded projects could be “a disaster” without the right approach.
“I know brands, and they’re going to compromise on something that is good for the consumer but not good for them,” he said. “And they’re going to come from a place of selfishness—‘I want this,’ ‘I want that,’ ‘This is important’…They’re going to come from politics, not from consumer-centricality, and it’s going to hurt them.”
The tight-knit fan communities of crypto enthusiasts and artists create a high bar for marketers that want to play in the space. Boye Fajinmi, cofounder and president of The Future Party, says companies need to “have that cultural co-sign in the NFT space” to pull it off. (The Future Party created an NFT for Dole in collaboration with the artist David Datuna—who in 2019 famously ate a banana during Art Basel Miami.)
Fajinmi said some brands seem more focused on creating an NFT than on connecting with the right audiences, adding that NFTs should be taken seriously rather than released as jokes. (Earlier this year, the P&G-owned brand Charmin sold a toilet paper-themed NFT.)
“There’s a really, really strong NFT community,” Fajinmi says. “And I think most of the general population will cool off to it, but I think that community will continue to drive hype. And it’ll be a world where NFTs are just something everyone just does, like ‘Oh we have to NFT it.’”