From Toy To Tipping Point: This Is How Crypto Goes Mainstream
From early evangelists and illicit dark webbers, through to tech billionaires, the blockchain and crypto narratives have been shaped by an evolving mix of storytellers. The first chapters were written, as Andreas Antonopoulos likes to say, from the “lunatic fringes”. These eccentric software engineers, programmers and computer science graduates had the foresight to mine coins and make early investments years before anyone else.
They didn’t just know about blockchain or cryptocurrencies, they understood them. More than this, they saw the financial potential, whether that meant as a speculative trade, an investment, an alternative payment system for the world — or the future separation of inflation-free money and state. Their influence was powerful among an organically grown community of early crypto enthusiasts, but Bitcoin was still far from tipping into mainstream adoption. For one thing you needed to be tech-savvy to join the then still somewhat exclusive crypto club. For another, cryptocurrency’s inefficiencies, price volatility and general lack of use cases to demonstrate the technology and its advantages made it harder to market.
The Wild Speculators
Yet here we are in 2021 and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, has not only entered the conversation, but developed seemingly omnipotent crypto powers. Such is his influence that Bitcoin’s value surged to more than $58,000 following the news that Tesla bought $1.5billion worth of the cryptocurrency, before plummeting down again by 20 percent in a (supposed) reaction to a tweet from Musk implying that Bitcoin and Ethereum were overvalued. Then after announcing in March that Tesla would accept Bitcoin payments, in another twist of events Musk just this week tweeted that Tesla has now reneged on the decision to accept Bitcoin for car purchases citing climate change concerns. Bitcoin’s value fell by 17% before steadying at $49,312 at the time of publishing. The more cynical mind might say he’s rather enjoying his influence over the crypto market.
Regardless, it’s clear that the crypto narrative has now passed to tech entrepreneurs and investors and high-profile corporate adoptions are capturing mainstream media headlines and bringing crypto speculation and investment into coffee table conversations. People with no technical background have an awareness of cryptocurrencies even if they do not necessarily understand how blockchain works. Bitcoin is no longer something on the lunatic fringes, but a serious consideration among institutional investors, as well as everyday people looking for ways to invest the money earning them ever less interest in the bank.
Billionaire backers and institutional investors are popularizing the idea of cryptocurrencies as a wild speculation: dig into subreddit discussions, however, and you’ll find communities weary of endorsing billionaires as positive pinups for crypto. Comments such as, “crypto is for the people not a plaything for the richest man in the world” lament on the sense that decentralized technologies were intended to provide a better alternative to a broken system, rather than bringing more money and power to existing symbols of unimaginable wealth.
If tech billionaires like Musk are the hares in this fable then these kind of commenters are the tortoises: while the former are hastily rushing towards speculative bubbles, the latter want to see people gradually using cryptocurrencies the way they were intended, creating network effects, steady and stable growth and ultimately far smarter speculations. They believe cryptocurrencies will eventually stabilize and that digital currencies will become a normal way to make online transactions. They measure the value of coins by their purpose and by their use cases.
In other words they want people to start using rather than casting wild speculations over crypto and they see cryptocurrency, not as a plaything for the rich, but rather, as Clay Christensen would put it, as a toy for the masses. In other words they see blockchain and cryptocurrencies as disruptive technologies that, much like telephones, or PCs, might look like toys at first sight, but that’s only because the early iterations haven’t caught up with their own possibilities yet. Rather, they are in the process of rapidly becoming simpler to use and smarter at meeting user needs — and ever more ready to drive mainstream adoption.
The Toy Makers
Marketing crypto for the mainstream means finding ways to make the technology appealing and intuitive for people. With 2.7 billion users, 59% of which are under 34 years-old, the gaming industry has the reach to give younger consumers an entry point into owning and earning crypto en-masse. With an estimated revenue of $160 billion, it’s also a profitable business for game developers, but this comes at the cost of consumers, who continually pay into the system via in-game purchases, without sharing in any of the value they generate. Meanwhile in virtual worlds users will create digital objects themselves without owning any intellectual property rights or the ability to generate income.
Blockchain technology is already disrupting this model and NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which demonstrate the authenticity of ownership of digital or physical assets, and which cannot be exchanged with other tokens, are giving gamers a way to monetize their activity. CryptoKitties, built on Ethereum in 2017, was the first and most famous example of a game giving people a way to earn and sell crypto, and the highest-earning collectible cat sold for more than $173,000. Such blockchain-built games running on dApps (decentralized applications) use NFTs to represent in-game content, and this enables people who buy assets or create assets in games to become the actual owners of those assets instead of them remaining under the ownership of the developers. This means they have the control to sell them to other players in the game.
Once in-game assets are represented by NFTs they no longer sit on centralized servers, but become theoretically interoperable with other games built on the same blockchain network. This makes it possible to move them across to other interconnected games rather than being locked into one game. It also means that if anything happens to said game, the players won’t lose their assets, but rather still own them independently, which means they can still retain their value or sell them.
NFTs within the gaming industry are an exciting step forward in marketing blockchain for mainstream adoption, but there are, of course, risks that some might see this as a way to speculate on assets to sell for profit rather than becoming true cryptocurrency adopters. It’s a step in the right direction and it certainly makes blockchain start to look more toy-like, but we are likely still at the beginning of the process of NFT experimentation with far more innovation and use cases to come.
The Ultimate Marketers
Arguably one of the best placed industries to market blockchain and crypto is marketing itself. The digital marketing industry is currently valued at $340 billion — up from $290 billion the previous year. It’s a profitable industry, but much like the gaming industry the profits are pocketed by centralized intermediaries. These intermediaries essentially exploit user data to target advertising. This, a now well-known monetization model, conflicts with changing consumer attitudes towards privacy and ownership of personal data.
Growing consumer demand for more transparency and trust is also nudging influencers — worth $6 billion in 2020 and expected to rise to $24.1 billion by 2025 — to see blockchain-powered consumer platforms, rather than monolithic social networks, as the way forward for content monetization.
Where lifestyle influencers go, their communities follow, which places them in a prime position to convince and convert the mainstream to crypto. Lifestyle and crypto influencers, including Keemokazi (18.7m+ combined social followers), swagboyq (11.8m TikTok followers), Alexyoumazzo (6.1m TikTok followers), dayynaa (5.1m TikTok followers), @jimema.jimenezr (17.1m TikTok followers) and @iamferv (12.2m TikTok followers) have moved into creator houses in LA. Together, they are combining their multi-million fan reach, to educate their communities about crypto (the influencers themselves are provided with weekly crypto education sessions from external blockchain and cryptocurrency professionals), while onboarding them onto user-generated marketing app YEAY, where anyone can create authentic word-of-mouth product recommendations and earn cryptocurrency for their valuable contributions.
The content passes through the WOM Protocol before it can start earning, which involves the creator staking tokens and passing a peer review process that rates the content for its honesty and quality before paying out performance-based rewards in the form of WOM Tokens. This blockchain mechanism helps to restore the transparency and trust back to digital marketing, while giving influencers, as well as their followers, an easy entry-point into cryptocurrencies, walking them through every step from creating a wallet, to converting their tokens into gift cards or even digital payment cards that can be used to buy things in-store.
This is just one example of the kind of easily-integratable and consumer-friendly use cases that the digital marketing sector presents for crypto. These use cases have the power to reach far further than the self-contained crypto communities, while turning consumers into not purely spectators, but everyday crypto users.
How The Story Ends
The beautiful part is that no one knows how the story will end. Are we witnessing in cryptocurrencies a rich man’s plaything and the inevitability of a bubble yet to burst? Or are we watching a disruptive technology emerge that, just like every other toy before it, hasn’t even come close to performing at its potential level yet? Time will tell, but if Aesop’s fable taught us anything, then the slow and steady route of building and enabling use cases for people to start using and earning crypto in their everyday lives, rather than creating a society of wild speculators and pump and dumpers, is the wisest route to crypto mass adoption.