News & Views

Bitcoin. Sweat. Tide. Meet the Future of Branded Currency

by Contagious Team

Following his TED-Ed  talk in Edinburgh in June, Contagious co-founder Paul Kemp-Robertson hosted a discussion on TED's site for two days, looking at whether people trust brands and corporations more than governments. His talk is live on the TED site and above.

Paul spoke about how Americans' trust in banks is at an all-time low, at just 21%, according to a Gallup survey, and as trust in technology increases, the crypto-currency Bitcoin is challenging how we think about money. The decentralised currency that is regulated by the network instead of a central authority and has been prone to wild fluctuations in value is private, anonymous, fast and cheap, and is now being accepted by sites such as Reddit and Wordpress.

Edelman's 2013 Trust Barometer revealed that while 61% of people trust 'someone like me', just 43% trust CEOs and 38% trust government officials or regulators. Society is shifting to become heterarchical: people trust others who are similar to themselves more than institutions and even more than government and leaders. 

If money is an expression of an agreed value, in a digital age we can quantify value differently. We can question, disrupt and interrogate what money means and what our relationship with it is. Is there a reason for governments to be in charge of money any more, for example?

From a marketing point of view, brands stand or fall by their reputations built on trust and transparency. Loyalty schemes such as airmiles are in effect micro economies. For example, 30% of transactions in Starbucks are made through Starbucks Starpoints rather than cash. 

Amazon has launched Amazon Coins, which lets people buy apps for the Kindle and make purchases within its ecosystem, but as we begin to trust businesses more than governments, it is foreseeable that Amazon's currency might one day go head to head with the Federal Reserve's.

New York magazine covered the theft of Tide detergent by drug addicts, who would then trade it for drugs. The P&G product trades above category averages, smells luxurious and is a shortcut for quality. 

In Mexico, Nike's Bid Your Sweat (JWT, Mexico) tracked distance covered and rewarded runners with the ability to bid for Nike products, based on the number of kilometres they'd clocked up. The brand acted as a health and wellbeing partner, helping a community that has bought into its offering. 

Another example of the shift in advertising towards services, tools and applications is in Africa, where mobile airtime has long being recognised as a valuable currency.Vodafone launched Fakka in response to shopkeepers handing out pieces of gum or sweets instead of loose change. Vodafone launched mobile airtime coupons in small denominations that shopkeepers could hand out as change, instead of actual coins.

A survey carried out by Contagious and Opinium found that 45% of 25 to 34-year-olds in the US would be comfortable using an independently issued or branded currency. 

Are brands and corporations filling the gaps that governments can't afford to fill?

Paul Kemp-Robertson is the co-founder of Contagious