Blockchain, Brands and Advertising: It’s All Still to Play For

By Nada Abdelrahman, Marketing Manager, Ultra

Marketers could be forgiven for thinking that the whole ‘crypto and blockchain thing’ was a passing fad. It’s certainly true that the era of every single brand feeling the need to launch an NFT collection or create an experience in The Sandbox is largely over.

It’s also true that the underlying technology that powers cryptocurrencies and NFTs may yet hold considerable potential for brands and advertisers. From ad fraud prevention to loyalty schemes, the use cases – and brands exploring them – persist.

Transparency and security

Recent years have seen the marketing landscape move away from intrusive cookies and advertising IDs in favor of user privacy. Blockchain-based advertising turns this on its head again. Music to advertisers’ ears, I’m sure.

With blockchain technology, it’s out with the walled gardens and in with decentralization. User data can’t be gatekept by platforms and is openly visible, but kept secure through immutable storage. Blockchain can therefore help reduce ad fraud by verifying the validity of engagements and impressions, and creating secure records of those points of interaction. Advertisers can track and audit campaigns more accurately, and avoid paying for fraudulent results.

Another upside is improved targeting. As well as simply targeting consumers based on a full picture of their preferences and behaviors (essentially what was allowed by Apple and Google until recently), advertisers can see real-time data on ad performance and continuously refine their campaigns, while publishers can optimize their inventory to generate more revenue.

With great power…

Brands and advertisers should view the transparency enabled by blockchain as a great responsibility. This isn’t about a return to the ‘good’ old days of rampant and intrusive advertising; it’s an opportunity to connect with consumers on a one-to-one basis.

To stand out, retain consumer interest and inspire brand loyalty, constant innovation is needed. For example, brands can offer unique rewards and personalized promotions based on an individual’s spending and behaviors, strengthening their customer engagement and relations and ensuring consumers don’t feel their favorite brands are all take and no give. Central to this dynamic is the hotly-debated NFT, which is essentially a unique identifier which can represent a digital collectible such as a fashion accessory for a gaming avatar or badge for a social media platform, a ticket for an intimate gig with a global megastar, or even a physical item. In this way NFTs are a marketing tool in themselves, rewarding users and cultivating communities through perks.

Early examples of this can be seen in the Starbucks Odyssey loyalty program, which offers free and paid NFT stamps and one-of-a-kind benefits for milestones in the customer journey. It’s a far cry from collecting 10 stamps on a dog-eared piece of card, with blockchain ‘smart contracts’ able to automatically grant rewards to users’ wallets based on their actions and purchases. There are myriad other examples from household name brands, such as virtual experiential fashion and collectibles (Nike, Puma) to accelerators for up-and-coming musicians (Mastercard), to authentication of luxury goods (LVMH, Mercedes-Benz and others).

Gaming & esports: A case study

My industry, gaming, has long been seen as one of the most natural fits for blockchain technology, with admittedly mixed results. Some of the clearest applications are in esports, which like traditional sports relies heavily on brand sponsorships. Many esports organizations are brands in their own right, such as 100 Thieves which has launched fashion collabs with the likes of Gucci.

As well as enjoying the more effective advertising and consumer engagement blockchain can enable across the board, blockchain can give brands powerful new strings in their bows when it comes to esports specifically. From creating or sponsoring tournaments that are only accessible to their most engaged fans, to rewarding them with unique digital collectibles or even physical goods represented as NFTs, there’s a plethora of opportunities to genuinely add value. And, all of this can be administered automatically using blockchain tech, reducing expenditure for marketers and friction for consumers.

It’s true, blockchain, crypto, web3, metaverse, NFTs – these former buzzwords are now on the periphery. There’s plenty of potential left in the tech that underpins them, however, which is why it continues to captivate blue chip brands, not to mention industry titans from IBM to JPMorgan. To make the most of this as yet unrealized opportunity, brands and advertisers will need to navigate the thorny issue of privacy by adding genuine value for their audiences.