More Brands Are Entering The Metaverse As Coca-Cola Auctions Its First NFT

As marketers continue to experiment with the convergence of cryptocurrencies and culture, Coca-Cola is leveraging its legacy of collectibles with a first NFT.

Coca-Cola's first series of NFTs includes this digital bubble jacket.

Coca-Cola's first series of NFTs includes this digital bubble jacket.

The Atlanta-based beverage conglomerate is launching a series of four non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that will be sold as a single asset, with proceeds going to Special Olympics International. Artists and cryptocurrency aficionados alike have embraced NFTs, which are digital assets underpinned by blockchain technology. Companies ranging from Pringles to the entertainment company Superplastic have all created NFTs in the hopes of capitalizing on the crypto-cultural zeitgeist.

Coca-Cola teamed with Tafi, a Utah-based business that creates avatars and other virtual content, to resuscitate a pixelated facsimile of Coke's legendary 1956 vending machine for its digital asset debut. Instead of Coke cans, the "Friendship Box" is designed to resemble a "loot box" in video games. Coca-NFT Cola's loot package includes a metallic red bubble jacket garment that is inspired by the company's previous delivery uniforms—but that glows with fizz. The series also includes a "sound visualizer" with traditional Coca-Cola sounds like a bottle opening and a drink being poured over ice, as well as digital copies of the company's 1940s playing cards. 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 truly allowed us to explore the expansive expanse that the digital world provides." "This is such a great fusion of form, function, and aesthetic," said Joshua Schwarber, Coca-senior Cola's director of global digital design. “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 kinds of opportunities.”

Coca-Cola has a long history of producing and selling physical collectibles in the real world. A limited edition Norman Rockwell set of four Coca-Cola prints costs $400 on the company's website, while a classic German Trink plastic cooler costs $550. A Steuben Crystal 125th Anniversary bottle, a 1970 Chevrolet Hauler set, and a $25 "First Hundred Years Collector's Book" are also available.

"Over three centuries, the Coca-Cola brand has built collectability and love," stated Tafi President Matt Wilburn. "We're in the 1800s and 1900s, and we're trying to figure out how to make an NFT that symbolizes that brand love through such a long 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?"

According to Oana Vlad, Senior Director of Global Strategy for Coca-Trademark Cola's division, the NFT space is changing so quickly that the company's work must evolve "almost on a daily basis, perhaps more quickly than it would on another project."

Tafi Chief Operating Officer Ty Duperron believes that as culture shifts toward digital worlds, people will reject clothing that is already available in real life. The company had previously collaborated with Coca-physical Cola's product team on other digital wearables for Coca-other Cola's brands and platforms. And, while they had intended to create a variety of wearables for the NFT, he stated that they decided to create 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 with its own fizz and fluid inside," Duperron explained. "Because there were no reference points because nothing existed, we couldn't just run a particle system and call it fizz." There are specific times and ways in which fizz must react."

Coca-Cola is just one of many well-known companies experimenting with NFTs this year. Campbell collaborated with artist Sophia Chang and the shoppable video app NTWRK on Wednesday to create an NFT collection honoring the soup company's newly designed label. While Taco Bell was one of the first to jump on the NFT bandwagon with a series of "limited edition" taco NFTs, luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana have released their own high-fashion NFT collections as recently as this month.

Marketing firms have also formed NFT divisions in response to the growing interest. VaynerNFT, a new agency within VaynerMedia, debuted earlier this month as Anheuser-Busch InBev's NFT agency of record. (Before its parent company began working with Vayner, Stella Artois auctioned off several NFTs earlier this summer.)

According to Gary Vaynerchuck, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia known for his quick adoption of digital platforms, the stakes for branded NFTs are high because people are more likely to buy one from a celebrity than a company. This means that businesses will have to compete on merit by having the right assets and "cultural cachet." While he is optimistic about NFTs in general, Vaynerchuck believes that most branded projects will be "a disaster" if the proper approach is not taken.

"I know brands, and they'll compromise on something that's good for the consumer but bad for them," he said. "And they'll come from a selfish place—'I want this,' 'I want that,' 'This is important’... They’re going to come from politics, not from consumer-centricity, and it’s going to hurt them.”

The close-knit fan communities of crypto enthusiasts and artists set a high standard for marketers looking to enter the space. To pull it off, companies need "that cultural co-sign in the NFT space," according to Boye Fajinmi, co-founder and president of The Future Party. (The Future Party collaborated on an NFT for Dole with artist David Datuna, who famously ate a banana artwork during Art Basel Miami in 2019.)

According to Fajinmi, some brands appear to be more concerned with creating an NFT than with connecting with the right audiences, and NFTs should be taken seriously rather than released as jokes. P&G-owned Charmin, for example, sold a toilet paper-themed NFT.

"There is a very, very strong NFT community," says Fajinmi. "And I believe the majority of the general population will cool off to it, but I believe the community will continue to drive the hype." And it will be a world where NFTs are just something that everyone does, as if to say, 'Oh, we have to NFT it."