Shubham Dhage  //


Last year, NFTs seemingly crash-landed into the marketing sphere, presenting creatives with a novel technology that could be experienced in both digital and physical spaces. Now a $40 billion-dollar industry, according to Bloomberg, many companies have started minting, or making, their own NFTs—which stands for non-fungible tokens. Some of the latest consumer brands to create NFTs to enrich marketing experiences include NASCAR, Barbie and Lay’s.

Racing is an expensive sport, whether it’s horses or stock cars, which makes both rather exclusive to participate in IRL—in real life. But recently, Dayton, Florida-based NASCAR partnered with Virtually Human Studio (VHS) in Victoria, Australia—a creator of entertainment experiences using virtual reality and emerging technologies—to mint NFTs that invite younger demographics to enjoy the sport, too, in a unique way.

VHS is a startup founded in 2019, and it operates ZED Run, a digital horse-racing game built on blockchain technology. Through this new partnership, the game will feature NASCAR-branded horses that players can buy, sell, breed and race digitally as NFTs. In the real world it can cost $100,000 or more to purchase a racehorse, have access to a stable and training, and to enter a race, ZED players can enter races for $2 to $15, and invest as much as they’d like into the development of their digital racehorses. VHS recently secured $20 million in funding to further develop ZED Run, which currently has over 100,000 users.

Presenting digital racehorses as NASCAR-branded, and giving fans the option to purchase a racehorse NFT of their own, is an effort that promotes inclusivity, but also to encourages younger viewers to tune into NASCAR on TV by tapping into this demographic. The partnership was announced on Oct. 3, to coincide with the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, and included a new NASCAR Stakes digital racetrack, reminiscent of the aesthetic seen at Talladega Superspeedway, and the chance for players to enter to win one of 100 NASCAR ZED passes, or NFTs, during a 24-hour window. If players weren’t one of the lucky winners, 900 NASCAR ZED passes were also available for purchase. Skins for the NFTs were made available a week later, and all of them were randomly dropped into owners’ wallets with differentiating rarity (common, uncommon, rare, super rare and ultra-rare).

Barbie x Balmain NFTs
As an entrance into NFTs, Barbie, owned by El Segundo, California-based Mattel, Inc., created its first NFT collection. The collection was borne from a partnership between Mattel and Balmain, a French high-fashion brand, and was developed back in 2018. It features three unique NFTs of Barbie and Ken adorned in clothing and accessories from Balmain’s latest line, all in the signature Barbie Pink, and the NFTS tap into nostalgia by using a 90s-style Barbie logo and aesthetic. Each NFT was accompanied by a physical, Barbie-sized version of the outfit worn in the NFT, for dolls and collectors to use in the real life, which included a striped sweater dress with a cold shoulder, a double-breasted blazer and a long-peak-collared coat, a cap and an oversized pillow bag.

The NFTs were made available at auction from January 11-14, and exclusively through Mattel Creations, an ecommerce platform that Mattel launched in 2020, and hosted on mintNFT, an NFT marketplace. To discuss the inspiration behind the NFTs and the artwork itself, a virtual panel was also hosted on January 11, between Balmain CEO Txampi Diz, mintNFT CEO James Sun and Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson. The panel was open to 5,000 registrants, who all received a different, complimentary NFT from the Balmain x Barbie collection. And in addition to the NFTs and luxury wear for Barbie, Mattel also released a 50-piece, ready-to wear line as part of the Barbie x Balmain collection. Items included a casual t-shirt, cropped t-shirt, cap and purse. 

Lay’s NFT
Potato chip brand Lay’s, owned by PepsiCo in Purchase, New York, minted an NFT and directly tied its design concept to an important cause, while helping to raise awareness for another. Lay’s has shared a partnership with Operation Smile, an international nonprofit medical service that provides free surgery to children with a cleft lip or cleft palette, with no access to medical care, since 2018. Its NFT, which was made in partnership with Project Ark, a digital asset platform in Romania, drew from a 2018 campaign, “Smile with Lay’s,” which featured smiles on its product packaging and donated a percentage of the sale of each “smiling” potato chip bag to Operation Smile. 

This NFT is a composite image of 3,000 smiles taken from its “Smile with Lay’s” campaign, and arranged by color into a larger picture that resembles a Lay’s potato chip bag alongside books, a bicycle, a tree and other items, underneath clouds and with a cheerful yellow backdrop. It was minted on the Polygon network and auctioned through Lay’s Open Sea page, and this NFT’s proceeds will go toward four nonprofits dedicated to educational, environmental and social issues in Romania. The NFT is also part of the ImpactNFT initiative, an online marketplace created by Project Ark that donates to animal and environmental conservation efforts worldwide.

The creative use of a previous campaign to inspire a new one, and to draw awareness to all organizations involved, shows yet another possibility brought forth by NFTs, and that Lay’s is reimagining its marketing while keeping important messages consistent.

“The SMILE ImpactNFT is an example of cross-industry partnership that can drive social impact in a creative way that adds ongoing value,” said Max Song, CEO of Carbonbase, a tech brand aimed at reducing carbon emissions associated with blockchain, and founder of Project Ark, in a statement. “There are clear synergies between minting NFTs and making the world better.