The ABCs of NFTs: A Crypto Crash Course

Although the 2022 Super Bowl is already well in our rearview mirror, trending topics and frequent Google searches reveal that a select group of ads shown during the biggest sports, entertainment, and marketing spectacle of the year left a lasting impact. Despite an incredibly exciting game (including last-minute heroics from rookie Cooper Kupp) and a legendary halftime show (featuring hip hop royalty like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg), the introduction of cryptocurrency and NFTs to the “mainstream” appear to have established the strongest foothold in post-game public discourse.

Many viewers heard the word “non-fungible” for the first time ever during the Super Bowl, and as indicated by the most commonly searched question on this topic (“what are NFTS?”), there’s still likely a lot of confusion amongst the general public about what the term actually means.

The four NFT-focused, massively popular Super Bowl ads and subsequent explosion of celebrity NFT drops served as a wake up call to me. As an intern at a creative agency, I was sick of feeling out of the loop and decided to go down the proverbial rabbit hole as a way to answer the question on millions of people’s minds: what is an NFT?

In order to understand NFTs, you first have to understand some cryptocurrency basics; namely, the blockchain. When people talk about “the blockchain,” they are referring to a series of online files that hold information about transactions that take place online. For example, in the same way that our money’s value is backed by the federal reserve and transactions are recorded in a ledger, cryptocurrencies are legitimized by being recorded as a block on a chain. The blockchain.        

Now, let’s break it down a little further. Each “coin” represents a different chain of blocks, in the same way that each bank has its own ledger. Some of these coins may sound familiar, like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin, often mentioned in relation to Elon Musk’s various antics. As I’ve stated before, coins are their own blockchains and are used as currency, but tokens, usually media files like art or short videos, are distributed using these existing blockchains.

This is the point in the process where NFTs started making sense to me. An NFT is a unique picture, usually made by a digital artist, and its legitimacy of creation by the original artist is the blockchain record of the transaction of the original sale and any subsequent sale of the file.

For example, if you download a photo of a lion from a file sharing website, there’s usually no way to verify that it was posted by the original photographer, or how many other people have downloaded it.  You may not particularly care about these details one way or the other, but think about it in terms of art. Imagine Leonardo Da Vinci uploaded the Mona Lisa as a digital file on the web rather than hanging it in the Louvre, and rather than going to a museum, you had to pay $5 to download it. Even if you’re not internet savvy, you know that it would immediately be purchased, downloaded, and uploaded to Twitter for everyone to see for free.

But if the Mona Lisa was an NFT (a recorded spot on a blockchain), Leonardo Da Vinci could sell it to one person using a secure one-to-one transaction via cryptocurrency that has proven legitimacy (as it is recorded in the digital ledger), and that person who just bought the Mona Lisa would be free to do with the file as they please. If they wanted to post it online for everyone to see, that is their right to do so. If they wanted to keep it downloaded on their computer, never to be shown to the world, they can do that as well.

While it’s questionable how well this system has been executed, as there are plenty of scams in the crypto world, I think it’s important to keep up with what’s happening in tech. Many parallels have been drawn between the crypto Super Bowl ads and the Pets.com ad in the 2000 Super Bowl, and as reluctant as some may be to enter the world of crypto, if it ends up being even half as game changing as the “.com” boom, many will wind up left in the dust. 

In my time at Grafik, I’ve learned a lot more about the ever-expanding world of digital marketing and its impact. I find myself thinking about the advances we’ve all witnessed since the dawn of the internet, wondering if its founders could have ever imagined the development of things like SEO, social media, and digital currency. While crypto and NFT’s might still seem far-fetched and unrealistic, as marketers and designers, it’s our responsibility to stay informed because the next “.com,” the next Facebook, the next internet could be just around the block. 

…I’ll wait.

Grafik logo as a placeholder for author's image
Ethan Madden

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