Last week Alf wrote about the content strategy behind Elon Musk’s magic lamp, and this week I wanted to explore how fashion and luxury companies might steal it from him.
In the tech world there’s a chart that’s rolled out on Twitter whenever a new fad arrives. Created by market research company Gartner, the “hype cycle chart” helps you put new inventions into context. I think the chart is successful because it defies the natural impulse to reject change. The hype cycle chart says "yes, I accept this change which is scary and confusing, and it’s not going to disappear. (But it will become boring.)"
Nearly a decade since the three most important cryptocurrencies were invented (Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin), it’s worth asking where you think they sit. If you think crypto is mostly about laundering money and governments will eventually ban them, you’d probably say somewhere near the peak of inflated expectations, with a much lower plateau of productivity.
Gartner did one specifically for blockchain technologies in 2019.
But what if all this scary, annoying and ethically and environmentally questionable tech is actually nearer the slope of enlightenment?
It's worth noting that despite the media noise, very few people and companies in the wider world with real power care about crypto: I FOIed HM Treasury about it, and they say they’ve never experimented with it; even Apple, a multi-trillion dollar company, is only getting around to hiring people with expertise in this area; and if you think about it, Elon Musk has only tweeted about a dozen times about it.
We’re still in the early days of famous, rich and influential people, companies and organisations talking about this stuff, and yet it shows no sign of going away. That presents an opportunity for anyone with a bit of influence and an interest in expanding it.
In order of difficulty, here’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to how a company like Chanel, Supreme or any other fashion or luxury brand could cash in on the crypto craze.
First: Start reading sci-fi books and New Scientist, and believe it
In the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2018 book “Red Moon” by Kim Stanley Robinson which has a lot to say about life on Earth. While China and the West battle for supremacy on the moon, the citizens of Earth are busy converting their money into “carboncoins”. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, my colleagues at New Scientist have been reminiscing on Slack about covering the launch of Bitcoin and Ethereum back in 2014, including a quote from a then 19-year-old Vitalik Buterin. It also includes this wonderful chart which encapsulates the Bitcoin story today, or at any point in the last decade, really.
Of course, it’s easy to read about this stuff, and much harder to act on it. Here are some ideas anyway:
Stupid easy: Accept payment in cryptocurrency or make an NFT
Done. Done to death. And not without risk! Just ask Greenpeace. If you want cred in the crypto world, it's probably better to find a coin you like and want to encourage, buy loads and give it away to customers as a bonus. This is how most crypto communities get started (just be careful not to give it to a scam tipping bot). Think of it as the fashion equivalent of free popcorn.
Easy in theory: Talk about some of this stuff sometimes
Your staff are talking about it, your customers probably have some (or a lot). The world is talking about it. If you incorporate crypto into your content strategy, you might actually attract some of these people. Some of them are very rich. Even the ones who’ve lost and are losing money seem to be having fun. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this community?
Yes there are a lot of scammers and weirdos, but Elon Musk almost single-handedly managed to introduce the idea of green crypto and the market reacted almost immediately. You and your company could change things for the better by only accepting "greener" coins, or coins that donate to charities you support, or exchanges that have watertight "know your customer" rules. Don't let the nerds run the party.
Should be easy: Incorporate it into your products
How is it that brands like Superdry, Off-White or Philipp Plein haven’t latched onto meme imagery? If people are posting photos of $ASS on their asses and getting their Lamborghinis wrapped with the logo of their favourite coins, you can bet they would buy a $500 T-shirt featuring a pixelated Shiba Inu.
Difficult and risky: Make your own shitcoin and ramp up the artificial scarcity
Scott Galloway’s talked about how Chanel should make its own crypto coin for $10,000 and only allow people who have one to get their clothes. Bloomberg’s already shown how it’s possible to make a “shitcoin” in less than 60 minutes. Combine DeFi's simplification of crypto with the possibility of environmentally friendly coins, and risks and difficulties are falling away every day.
Very difficult and very risky: Sell Chanel-branded graphics cards with Nvidia or collaborate with Bitmain on eco-miners
Yes, this is mostly an excuse for me to make a funny image in Photoshop. (That's an Nvidia 3060 Ti Founders Edition, which are going on eBay for about 150% of the recommended retail price.) But why shouldn’t Chanel collaborate with Nvidia? After all, Louis Vuitton created a LV-branded Windows CE pocket computer back in the 1990s. And the hottest "drops" today aren't happening at the Supreme store in Soho - they're for people begging, borrowing and stealing for the latest Bitmain Antminer E9 (you might have seen the 2016 model in the news the other day).
The Bitmain Antminer E9 looks like this.
Would it cost that much to make it look like this...
...charge twice the price, and limit the hardware so it can only mine your specific, environmentally-friendly fashion coin?
Here's a picture from the new Levi’s Haus in Soho, an exciting new store which focuses on sustainability, creativity and second hand jeans. They even use the language of "coins" to try and encourage sustainable behaviour, but instead of making it into a real coin (which admittedly is harder, and involves giving up control), it only exists as a proprietary element of their app.
Just in terms of branding, why not give it a shot? Louis Vuitton made this monstrosity even without the promise of a 1000x speculative return.
Insanely hard: Start making and selling NFT digital handbags for future AR-enabled headsets that hook into ARKit, CoreML body tracking, Metal Compute and SceneKit. Release it all on TestFlight.
Those are all real things. The virtual fashion world has arrived, and it's working on the iPhone you have in your pocket.
I admit these scenarios are silly and strange and probably in many ways utterly unworkable, but it's fun to imagine them. Also, the logic of the hype cycle chart says all this is going to happen anyway, so why not buy a ticket?
TikTok just got its first UK newspaper splash. Expect a lot more of this.
The story of the Post Office Horizon scandal is Kafka-esque in its premise, and utterly damning of the politicians, corporate executives, lawyers and judges whose actions and inactions ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent postmasters. The barrister who helped cleared their name wrote an excellent speech about the case which has lessons for anyone working with complex digital systems.
Don't believe the "green" claims of Boom Aero's very unwisely named supersonic transport aircraft concept, with which United Airlines has signed up. Basic physics means that this aircraft has to be much less efficient than flying at subsonic speeds. Still, it'll be cool to fly from New York to London in four hours. Will they accept Avios?
Here's a translation of the words in that "insanely hard" one:
NFT: Non-fungible token, or a unique digital token that only exists on a blockchain which you can buy and sell through marketplaces.
ARKit: Apple's application programming interface (API) that lets developers access the light detection and ranging sensor (LiDAR) on iPhones and iPads.
CoreML body tracking: Apple's integration of tools for machine learning software (the basis of what most companies call AI today) which allows the camera to intepret the imagery and apply a "skeleton" over a human figure.
Metal Compute: This is the low level software in Apple iOS that lets the phone access the graphical processing unit to render the scene.
SceneKit: A layer that sits on top of Metal Compute which enables developers to more easily create 3D scenes that combine objects (like the 3D poncho) and other data (like the skeleton and the imagery from the camera).