Opinion

Alex Jenkins

10 June 2021

It’s a great time for irrational, intangible value 

Whether or not NFTs and cryptocurrencies are a good investment, they’re a reassuring reminder of our irrational nature, says Contagious editorial director, Alex Jenkins.

This article was taken from issue 67 of Contagious Magazine, which is out now. You can purchase an annual subscription (4 issues) of Contagious Magazine here

Regardless of what the rest of the year has in store for us, I think we can all agree that it’s been a great quarter for intangible value.

On 11 March, the digital artist Mike Winkelmann – better known as Beeple – made a cool $69.3m by auctioning a non-fungible token (NFT) representing a collage of his work Everydays: the First 5,000 Days. That sale not only became the highest price ever paid for an NFT, but it also claimed the title of third most expensive artwork by a living artist. And if paying millions for a unit of data representing a jpeg wasn’t intangible enough, the NFT itself was paid for in Ether – the cryptocurrency generated by the Ethereum protocol.

Elsewhere in the wacky world of intangibility, Dogecoin has also had a hot time of it. The cryptocurrency created to make fun of other cryptocurrencies rocketed in value by over 10,000% this year, fuelled in part by a TV appearance from Tesla Technoking Elon Musk. Musk later went on to single-handedly wipe 20% off the price of Bitcoin after tweeting concerns about its environmental impact. (Of course, if you’d bought $100 of Bitcoin when we first covered it in Contagious back in April 2011, you’d still be richer to the tune of $43m – at the time of writing, but who knows now – so that’ll no doubt be some consolation to you.)

And as public interest was directed towards the insanity of millions of dollars changing hands for little more than a record on a digital ledger, brands rushed forward to capitalise on that attention. Alongside Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Pringles, toilet paper brand Charmin hurried out a branded NFT to score a quick earned-media win. Similarly, both the Oakland Athletics baseball team and the Dallas Mavericks basketball team rapidly announced they would accept Dogecoin as payment for tickets.

But while the dust hasn’t settled on whether NFTs and memecoins are a flare-up of ignorable irrelevance for marketers or a more substantial source of long-term opportunities, I personally found these episodes rather reassuring. As entire industries hold their breath to see what a post-pandemic world will look like, it’s comforting to see that people haven’t lost their wonderfully irrational ability to put great value on the intangible things in life. Those things whose value resides in our minds rather than the real world. The things whose value is in signalling power, that tell other people something about us, or even tell ourselves a little bit about who we are. And just as much as jpegs, NFTs or cryptocurrencies, those things, of course, include brands.