Slurp juice, Ape Water, and the baffling appeal of "headless" beverage brands
Editor’s note: Trying something new today—at the bottom of this email is a bonus roundup for paying Friends of Fingers of stuff I’ve been reading to stay up-to-date with the billionaire-precipitated labor crisis on America’s railroads and the ripple effects that might have on the booze business. Consider subscribing if you haven’t yet: a year of Fingers is currently on sale for 20% off, and you’ll get more bonuses like this!—Dave.
Roughly three decades ago, in May 2022, a Twitter user posted this exasperated reminder to the owners of Astro Ape non-fungible tokens:
a lotta yall still dont get it
ape holders can use multiple slurp juices on a single ape
so if you have 1 astro ape and 3 slurp juices you can create 3 new apes.
Tonight's slurp juice mint event is essentially a minting event for both Lab Monkes and Special Forces
Even though the so-called crypto winter had yet to arrive at that point, people immediately and correctly clocked this gibberish as a paragon of the goofiness and intellectual bankruptcy of speculative NFT projects.1 The crypto winter is now here, with coins going to zero, and entire exchanges like BlockFi and FTX—which was, it turns out, being operated like a $16 billion ATM by an amphetamine-fueled polycule of self-styled wunderkind dipshits from a hype-house in the Bahamas—collapsing in heaps of fraud. High-flying NFT projects have swooned apace. Astro Apes’ website is down; its Twitter account hasn’t posted anything since retweeting another NFT collection in early October; and the tokens themselves are trading at a fraction of their original mint price. To put it another way, the project (like most of its contemporaries from those heady days before the NFT bubble burst) appears to have run out of slurp juice.
And yet, despite the headwinds, some NFT holders—“hodlers” in the jargon, though not in this newsletter— are pressing ahead with their plans to monetize (“exploit”) their primate-based purchases. It’s often owners of Bored Ape Yacht Club tokens (unrelated to Astro Apes, try to keep up) making these efforts, which may be because that particular collection was subject to outrageous speculation earlier this year.2 And their “exploitation” often follows the thesis of the “headless brand,” a strategically ambiguous and buzzy theorem that posits, among other things, that “decentralized organizations”—owners of tokens from blockchain-based NFT projects, in this case—can “giv[e] users financial incentive to spread brand narratives of their own.” In the headless paradigm, something like BAYC should exist/iterate/spread like a meme, with unrelated holders incentivized to steward its growth to increase the value of their tokens. (I’ve written a lot more about this here, if you’re interested.)
That this sort of galaxy-brained aspirational futurism would appeal to someone who spent a down payment-sized bag of real cash on a badly illustrated digital monkey makes sense. What makes less sense is that a lot of these ventures seem to be beverage brands: Scotch, subscription coffee, hard seltzer, craft beer, and so on. In November, a company called Ape Beverages launched a canned water brand called Ape Water, billing it as “the first collectible, sustainable water beverage crafted for the Web3 community and beyond.” The titular “ape” is Bored Ape Yacht Club #5382, which is an illustration of a monkey wearing a hat that, according to the NFT marketplace OpenSea is currently “worth” around $71,000. I dunno man, let’s just move on.
Why are so many headless branding projects drinks-related? I have a few theories. First and foremost is how fun, approachable, and familiar drinks are as product category, especially to the young male cohort that rushed into NFTs last year. Cool, colorful marketing and packaging is the name of the game. This lowest-common-denominator veneer belies the complexity of making, distributing, and selling the stuff (particularly when it contains alcohol) in a way that might seduce would-be #disruptors. Also seductive: successful beverage brands can make shitloads of money. They don’t even have to command booze price points to blow-up, either: Liquid Death, a brand that makes canned spring water for millennial dads who still skate, recently raised $70 million on a $700 million valuation.
Building something like Liquid Death is hard, but it looks easy. Easier still, if you believe headless branding will allow you to harness the user-generated and vaguely memetic energy of NFT holders as both a marketing plan and a built-in customer base. (“A lotta y’all still don’t get it. You can slurp-meme your headless ape brand to sell juice to fellow hodlers while keeping overhead low!”) For the record, I don’t believe that! But a lot of people with real money to burn seem to find the concept persuasive enough to give it a try, Ape Beverages’ backers apparently included. That’s not to say they’ve given up on traditional marketing tactics entirely, though. This week at Art Basel, an annual festival in Miami where the all the worst people from your Instagram Explore page get together to do coke and mispronounce “Basquiat,” the brand has a pick-up truck driving around with a huge banana taped to it. It’s a reference to a Basel-specific meme from 2019, suggesting that when it comes to headless beverage branding at least, you can indeed use multiple slurp juices on a single Ape.
📬 Good post alert
Thank you to Friend of Fingers Miles B. for sending me this good post. See a good post that the Fingers Fam should know about? Please send me that good post via email or Twitter DM.
🧾 The Settle-Up
With ‘Yellowstone’ Tie-In, Coors Banquet Is Winning the West (my latest Hop Take column for VinePair)
The Corporate Reputation Launderers at B Corp Just Punked BrewDog
Lol Keurig Dr. Pepper Wants a Whole-Ass Year to Pay Its New PR Agency
Senators Want Answers from Kroger/Albertsons Execs; Still No Word on That $4B Shareholder Giveaway
Tough Sledding for Hard Mtn. Dew as Sales Slow and Moster’s Beast Unleashed Looms
CA Wineries Debate Merits of Allowing Children in Tasting Rooms; Craft Breweries Cackle
Decent Backstory Video on Liquid Death, the Voice-y Canned Water Brand Investors Adore
📲 The best Fingers meme ever and/or lately
Don’t miss out, follow Fingers on Instagram today. It’s free and your feed will thank you. (Not really, that would be weird. But you know what I mean.)
🤝 Bonus: What I’m reading about the labor crisis on America’s railroads
America’s rail system is vital to the economy and national security, and it’s currently in crisis because billionaire industrialists and billionaire shareholders care more about their record profits than they do about the lives of the workers who actually make the trains run on time. As you may have heard, workers have been rightfully frustrated with that, and that frustration has come to a boiling point as four major labor unions voted down the most recent bad contract. Naturally, our wise and cerebral ruling class, recognizing railroads’ paramount importance to virtually every aspect of American life, has intervened to force
the companies to change their business practices to ensure the longterm stability of this critical infrastructure the workers to accept that bad contract and get their assess back to work.
It’s a dangerous, outrageous, complicated situation, with major implications for the labor movement, the economy, and you, the American drinking public. Here’s a round-up of stuff I’m reading and people I’m following to stay abreast of the situation as it unfolds: