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Headless brands x beverage alcohol, blasphemy by the 6pk + more!
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I have a piece coming later this week at VinePair about NFTs in the craft brewing industry [edit 5/10/22: read it here] which is hilariously synched with reports of a flatlining token market and this week’s precipitous crypto crash. Can’t time the markets, I guess! Reporting and researching that story earlier this spring, I became curious about the “headless brand” concept, wherein brands are created and maintained by invested communities rather than companies. And lo and behold, while doomscrolling my timeline last month, I came across a brief clip from the Nelk Boys’ Full Send Podcast wherein cofounder Kyle Forgeard shows Snoop Dogg a prototype of a Happy Dad can emblazoned with the Bored Ape the troupe owns:
“Speaking of the Bored Ape shit… it’s a banana-flavored… with the ape,” says Forgeard, modeling the branded can for his guest. “Wowww,” says Snoop, who is all-in on NFTs I guess, in a hushed tone that seems almost reverent. “You own it. You already own it.”
If you’re not up-to-date on the web3 discourse, a) god bless you; and b) this is probably a lot to absorb. A quick-and-dirty definition of terms:
Bored Ape Yacht Club is a very popular and high-dollar NFT project;
The Nelk Boys are an extremely social media-savvy YouTube bro collective that bought one of the project’s stylized simian tokens for 59 Ethereum in December 2021 (which would’ve been about $245,000, if I converted the cryptocurrency to USD correctly);
Happy Dad is the Nelk Boys’ hard seltzer brand, which I’ve previously covered for its apparent/implied pitch to right-wing drinkers.
With all due respect to Snoop Dogg, he’s sort of incidental here, so you can kinda just forget about him for the rest of this essay. Sorry Snoop!
As for the “headless brand” concept: it has its origins in a 2019 essay by Other Internetthat foretold increased blockchain-enabled decentralization would give rise to “projects which have no centralized managerial body” whose characteristics, mission, and aesthetic were largely determined by “users [who have] financial incentive to spread brand narratives of their own.” Think Nike, but if Nike’s consumer-facing marketing strategy was actually hundreds of separate, self-interested marketing strategies being simultaneously developed and deployed by all of its shareholders at once, who—because they all stand to lose if the collective brand loses value or gets toxic—will instead shepherd and shape it to decentralized glory. Theoretically.
To me, this sounds unbelievably chaotic and doomed for failure, because even centralized companies struggle to build lasting brands and creative work like branding typically does not fare well when done by committee. But if you think of a brand less like a company/product and more like a constellation of ideas/ideals, as disciples of this concept argue you should, the idea becomes (slightly) more comprehensible. In this context, because the Nelk Boys have bought into the BAYC project, and the BAYC terms dictate “complete” ownership over the intellectual property that corresponds to their token (which in this case is Bored Ape #8928), they’re free to use it however they see fit, so long as the project’s creator, Yuga Labs, approves the usage.Happy Dad’s BAYC-themed hard seltzer isn’t the first BAYC-branded fermentable—that title belongs, as far as I know, to Michigan’s North Pier Brewing, whose owner holds Bored Apes #671 and #2538—but it’s definitely the highest-profile example of “headless branding” in FMBs, and potentially the whole beverage-alcohol business.
That Forgeard & co. see fit to sell banana hard seltzer with Ape #8928 means flavored malt beverages become just another facet of the headless BAYC “brand”—alongside massage candles, coffee subscription services, fast-food restaurants, music labels, and whatever else token holders want to do with them. Earlier this month, BlockBar (an Ethereum-based luxury goods market) announced a promotion that includes 1,500 bottles of Monkey Shoulder emblazoned with the company’s own BAYC token (#5400). In other words, you’ll be able to buy Ape-adjacent Scotch soon, if you’re into that sort of thing.
As goofy as this all seems, I do think the way that these outfits are merging crypto-oriented intellectual property and IRL booze brands is worth keeping an eye on. Buying a Bored Ape (“aping in,” in the jargon) is a way to quickly ingratiate your product with a small but by-definition wealthy cohort that are willing to spend obscene amounts of money on things that don’t make a ton of sense. If you’re looking to hawk superpremium-priced booze of varying quality to loyal drinkers, there are probably costlier ways to do it than simply minting an NFT from the project your ideal customer likes, then plastering your packaging with the corresponding JPEG and dumping photos of it into as many Discord servers as you can get into.
Depending on how the banana-flavored varietal sells upon release this summer, we may see more of this sort of this in the future. Wait what am I talking about, it’s definitely going to sell out because the Nelk Boys have a legion of diehard fans ready to buy whatever swag they slap their name on, Ape or otherwise. But we may see more of it anyway. After 2021’s massive NFT boom/bubble/whatever, people who minted tokens in high-profile projects have been scrambling to, like, find something to do with them. As Ryan Broderick wrote recently in Garbage Day, the question of “what comes next” for NFT holders…
[…] has led to an explosion of secondary NFT applications. There are NFT clothing lines, party passes, social clubs, restaurants, video games… NFTs successfully broke through into mainstream culture and now true believers are racing to make sure they aren’t remembered as digital pogs, a weird cringe trend we all forget about. And that desperation to find something — anything — that NFTs are actually good for seems like it means that we’ll keep cycling through wildly inscrutable and overhyped projects where a lot of people lose a lot of money for no reason.
Whether “marketing beverage alcohol” is a useful way to monetize a Bored Ape NFT remains to be seen; ditto whether Yuga Labs continues to approve booze ape-lications (sorry, sorry) in the future. Like a lot of web3, I feel like it’ll work out fine for BAYC holders that already have strong audiences on web2 platforms—the Nelk Boys, et al.—and companies that are built around providing web3 goods and services, like BlockBar. But those are not projects at scale, and their success or failure says more about the holders’ promotional abilities than the strength of the BAYC brand vis-a-vis booze. A true test of BAYC’s headless brand in the booze space would require a major beverage company to roll out a dedicated, non-limited, Ape-oriented product to see how it played with America’s drinking public, which for the most part still doesn’t/may never give a shit about any of this. We may get that test soon enough: AriZona Iced Tea, makers of several FMBs via a joint-venture with Heineken USA, minted a Bored Ape last summer, and you gotta figure their marketing team is always looking for new ways to prove it was a Great Buy.
📬 Good post alert
🥤Blasphemy: now available in variety 6pks!
Man I know I just said “you can’t time the market,” but the viral-marketing mavericks at MSCHF really picked an ideal moment in the sordid history of American Christofascism to release a hard seltzer made with holy water! If you ask me!!! The agency, which has previously debuted such notable stunts as strapping a paintball gun to the top of a remote-controlled Boston Dynamics robot and selling Nikes with rapper Lil Nas X that contained human blood, launched and immediately sold out of “Sacred Seltzer,” a 5%-ABV variety pack of FMBs available in cherry, mango, and peach, all of which were brewed with holy water “blessed according to official Catholic procedure” in late March. I assume someone is already screaming about this on Fox News.
🧾 Settling Up for April 2022
Each Friday in 🧾 The Settle-Up, I round up a bunch of stories from the booze business and beyond that caught my eye, but that I didn’t feel merited full-blown coverage in that particular edition of the newsletter. Then, I editorialize the shit out of them for our collective amusement. Paid-up Friends of Fingers can access an archive of April 2022’s Settled-Up headlines any time right here:
If you’re not yet a paying subscriber, please consider becoming one. Your support is of existential consequence to this here independent newsletter. Which brings me to…
📈 State of the Boozeletter™️: “April showers bring more #content” edition
I was chatting with a fellow independent ‘sletterer the other day about my various efforts to grow ye olde boozeletter into a sustainable business, and they expressed some surprise that the Fingers Accounts Receivable department wasn’t, like, absolutely crushing it. On one hand, this is very flattering, because it’s clear that this person (and presumably others?) view my publishing approach/Twitter bullshit/etc. as self-evidently successful. But it also troubled me a little bit, because a) though this project is growing, it’s definitely not financially viable right now; and b) I don’t want to give anyone any false impressions on that front, because media sucks enough as it is without sigma-grindset jabronis lying about the difficulties of building a successful subscription newsletter business.
So! To avoid any unintended jabronism, I’m going to once again open the kimono, as I periodically do, to give the Fingers Fam a
jarring, unsolicited eyeful of the ideal male body better sense of how things are going here at HQ. Check out some topline performance data from April 2022 right here. The TL;DR: April 2022 was a great month for the boozeletter, but we’ve still got a long way to go to make this project sustainable. My go/no-go goal is 500 paid subscribers by the end of September 2022; that figure represents the minimum viable recurring income I need to keep the project going longterm. As of today, we’re juuuuuust over halfway there, so if you haven’t yet bought a subscription, I hope you will today:
A year of Fingers works out to less than $7/month. If that sounds worth it for independent coverage and commentary about drinking in America, now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Thanks for reading!
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Other Internet is “applied research organization” that’s apparently pretty popular with venture capitalists and futurist/crypto types. I don’t know man.
Whether any of this is actually decentralized really depends on how glass-half-full you want to be about the definition of the term. As Broderick wrote back in March about a different BAYC-themed headless brand concept:
[I]t’s worth repeating: Bored Ape NFTs aren’t creative commons. Nor is there an automated blockchain-based way of getting the permission from Yuga Labs required to use them commercially. So, once again, this is really just another example of a “decentralized” Web3 idea being not so decentralized after all. The headless brand, at least in this case, does have a head. Which really makes me think that, behind all the white papers and theory and blockchain mumbo jumbo, Web3 is really just a fancy-sounding way of describing extremely old-fashioned business deals, the only difference is you can now easily make them with random people you meet on Twitter.
Luv 2 do business with random people on Twitter!