Calderon’s dignified status in the NFT space also means that he’s encountered plenty of brands interested in making a mark in Web3. Many have sought partnerships with Calderon, but unlike Adidas, most have not succeeded in offering what he considers a necessary value-add that brands must bring to the table. There’s even a specific phrase with which many brands have approached Calderon that he deems an immediate deal breaker.
On the heels of receiving an inaugural Cryptie Award from Decrypt Studios—a Web3 production studio and sister company of brand Decrypt Media—for “Industry Achievement” in the crypto ecosystem, Calderon spoke with Ad Age about how brands should build credibility in the space in order to effectively land partnerships. Among his recommendations, he discussed the importance of acting quietly and completing one’s due diligence, as opposed to making a big splash from the start.
Calderon also gave background on the deal with Adidas, shared his thoughts on NFTs moving past their speculative reputation and explained how Art Blocks grew from a personal project into the globally recognized platform it is today. Curiously, he ascribes significant credit to Discord for creating a novel social experience—a kernel marketers should remember when creating their own Web3 communities.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
How did the partnership with Adidas happen?
When WAGMI United came to me, they hadn't signed Adidas yet. But they wanted to bring Adidas in because of the brand recognition they had. And this is so important. For example, I have my preferences of brands that I’d like to work with that have had an impact in my life [such as Swatch, Onitsuka Tiger and Lego]. And as the space grows, there will be more people like me, each of whom are going to have their preferences for brands. And I think that there's going to be a very different dynamic between people that are already in the space and pulling in the brand versus the brand saying these fateful words that literally shut me down anytime I hear them, which are ‘How do I get in?’
Adidas had proved themselves with a couple other drops in the NFT space that happened way before the WAGMI thing. I was more likely to sign the deal with WAGMI to allow them to use the Squiggle on their jersey because it was Adidas, versus just some random jersey manufacturer. So when the brand brings credibility to a project, I think it's a home run.
How do you recommend a brand attain that credibility in the NFT space, even if they’re not well-known?
It requires a little bit of effort. It requires a brand entering the space not through splashing on Twitter that it bought their first NFT but maybe by attending conferences, sitting in on the dinners and hiring a Web3 person that knows how to get them into some of these events.
Let's pretend I don't know Swatch. Swatch starts coming to conferences and ends up at a table next to me, and I'm nerding out over a couple of drinks about how much I love this technology. And Swatch starts thinking ‘Oh man, it might be fun to do something together.’ Then I go home and I research Swatch and think they’d make a great partner, and so I reach out to them. That takes dedication.
Or maybe Swatch buys a Goblin Town NFT, but privately, and then gets to go to the event and has a good time, meets really good people, has conversations and says, ‘Oh yeah, I work with Swatch.’ People would be like, ‘Wow, someone from Swatch is here,’ but not in this ‘ta-da!’ way of doing it through Twitter. Rather, in an organic way, and all of a sudden that generates some interest and leads to a conversation where Swatch is now relevant in this space as a participant.