Building Your Brand with Your Ape, Beyond Representation
“If it’s good for one ape, it’s good for all.” This quote rests nicely next to Bored Ape Yacht Club 5273—or as some may know her, Kiki—on the 2.0 site page I made just for her. Like my fellow BAYC owners, building a brand from our Bored Ape Yacht Club JPEGs (or as I like to say, PNGs) has been a wild ride full of learning and growing and a lot of fun.
What is most interesting to me about that quote—that I haphazardly placed at one time—is how it has become the bibled motto for every decision I make to build a brand for her. It also strikes me as dimensional now: there are several ways to bring value to your NFT. There is no right way or easy path. It’s time or money, or money and time. In fact, what I love most about BAYC owners is that they’ve taken complete ownership and control of their ape to forge their own path. Not one person is doing the same ol’ thing. We have method Twitter personalities, EDM DJs, a gold-star rapper, grassroots comics, a soon-to-be-published and old-school industry represented ape, modeling agencies for apes, magazine cover apes, singers, membership clubs, amazing derivative artists, and incredibly creative merchandise and products—but each time a good thing happens to one of us, it drives up the value for all of us.
For one, it builds the general BAYC brand. It’s the reason we all went wild when Steph Curry bought in and changed his PFP. Unsurprisingly, the BAYC floor rose with his mainstream PR and PFP reveal. It’s basic. It’s embedded in celebrity culture. The more public we become as BAYC and the more we nurture the brand, the more visibility and demand it creates. The next two spikes are related to BAYC announcements.
(Above: Evaluate Market analytics for Bored Ape Yacht Club in the last 90 days)
Not exactly rocket science, I know. But the most visible BAYC apes—who weren’t celebrities prior—have all taken their unique journey and even though I am nowhere close to being Steph Curry in any way shape or form—swish!—I’m happy to share my personal branding journey with Kiki.
First of all, the night I bought Kiki was the last night the BAYC floor was below 1ETH. The floor was being swept quickly as I was trying to make the deal with her first owner. It was exhilarating and terrifying. But I knew purchasing Kiki was Step Zero of The Plan.
Second, I’d be lying if I said this was all mapped out. It wasn’t! We have never been here before—but I will try to demonstrate how each decision led to the next step.
Last, if nothing else, I hope this inspires you to reflect on your journey or begin your own journey with your JPEG.
Step 1: Visibility—from zero—Collaborating with Another IP & Storytelling
It wasn’t at the forefront of my mind that I would be using licensing rights after the purchase of my minted ape. However, it was one of the draws to purchase my second ape on secondary.
At the time many NFT folk were sharing how they wanted to find an ape that they “connected with.” It felt a little out of bounds for me since my minted ape was male, blindfolded, and wore a commie hat. Nevertheless, he was mine and to this day I would welcome him back to my wallet with open arms—after all, the first name on his sales history is mine and yes, I’m still sentimental about it.
The second I saw 5273 I knew she was the ape I connected with. I can’t quite express why but we all know it when we see it.
Punks Comic voting was around the corner for the apes’ issue and thought it would be fun to try and get Kiki in. As the brackets narrowed down, I realized the possibility of her win could mean something more as she was one of two female apes to make it into the last voting round. And to be clear, her bracket wins and final win were almost nothing to do with me. It was a combination of the many good people I’d gotten to know over time being in the NFT community discords. I believe they also saw Kiki as an opportunity to be equitable: a female-owned female ape.
In addition, each submitted ape created a backstory. Creating a backstory is hands-down the best and creative way to increase the value that costs nothing but time and imagination. Those who have taken the time to craft a personality to accompany their ape have typically risen to the top in recognition because it builds an invested audience.
As a nice surprise, Punks Comic announced that each Elite Ape would get a special edition cover and the sales structure would be similar to Euler Beats, on a bonding curve, with royalties to the owner of the genesis comic. Each Elite Ape will receive the genesis comic as a gift.
It was the first (small) step to receiving licensing royalties.
Step 2: Say Yes to Opportunity and Ownership
Unrelated and simultaneously, a fellow ape @bayc2560 reached out to me about a fun display he and his friend @ghost852apes were planning for the Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong called “Ghost + Clyde’s 852 Adventure.” The harbor features a beautiful promenade with a city view and a landmark Ferris wheel...and a spectacular display of ten gorgeous BAYC apes.
The idea of being decentralized was new to me coming from an entertainment background where everything is kept secret and tight to the chest. I had reservations about saying yes, especially because it was being displayed in another country I couldn’t visit—but it is one of the wisest choices I made for Kiki.
The reason being: it was a kick-ass display. And, about two weeks later, Christie’s Asia announced the BAYC auction. It was kismet. Those apes in the harbor and Christie’s auction ran concurrently. I believe a lot of exposure came from the Hong Kong display, their awesome video, and the social media hype surrounding the auction. During this time I connected with many people on Twitter who happened to see the video and/or display and were interested in learning more about BAYC.
Kiki will be in a museum exhibit in November 2021 in two cities in Asia to be announced soon.
One thing I’ve learned is how leaving behind the centralized idea of scarcity has shed a lot of feelings of possessiveness (not to be confused with ownership) regarding my IP. I don’t need to make money every single time she is displayed. But there should always be a fair trade factor.
Ownership is confidence in the blockchain and feeling good about sharing with the community.
Step 3: Connecting NFTs with the Physical World
By this time I am viewing Kiki as an entire entity, a being in-and-of herself. She’s more traveled than I am, certainly more famous, and has a lot more branding power than myself, the individual, Swickie.
What started as a fun branding experiment is now her own little branded being. Many times I am asked: Are you Kiki? I feel a definitive divide between us, I do not feel any sort of identity crisis about it. I am me, Kiki is Kiki. But I know not all apes feel that way and it’s respectable either way. This divide for me, however, made it easier for me to be bold in the next organic step that presented itself: Product.
It was important to me for Kiki’s branding journey to include something physical to touch or wear or have in the real world.
If you haven’t already, BAYC owners must face admitting that our precious JPEG is now a symbol of status much like the other JPEGS that “made it.” It is synonymous with this cycle’s NFT boom and you are considered a genesis member. This is how people on the outside have described it to me.
When I met with Dee Calvero, former co-founder of Crooks n Castles and flourishing independent streetwear designer—one of the streetwear brands that paved the way for the successful streetwear brands that exist today—he was already aware of BAYC and I was humbled and excited about the possibility of collaborating with him as an individual ape. As far as I am aware, there were no other streetwear co-founders designing merchandise for an individual ape and this moment was exceptional for me...for all apes.
It signals an era in which any BAYC owner could approach or be approached by big brand designers and companies—and strike deals on their own terms without an intermediary. As we know, in the “old world” access was limited by agents, representation or companies, etc., to iconic talents such as Dee Calvero. NFTs leveled the playing field in so many ways. We are free to create a true collaboration without the red tape. We took our time to do everything right. We went through rounds of ideation and design and adjustment—and it is OURS.
The first round of Kiki x Dee Calvero merch is locked. A preview of the merch will be on display for NFT NYC. I cannot express to you how honored I am to launch and release the first few pieces in their true form in the next coming weeks. Never in my life could I imagine I would be proofing fashion designs by one of the top streetwear designers of our time. It just wasn’t in my career trajectory. I have learned a lot from this process and it’s exciting to know that there is so much more to learn in this arena. And that we, as apes, can do it ourselves in collaboration with the amazing talents of our generation.
Bridging the divide between the NFT space and the physical world is essential to me and my newly formed #TeamKiki, which I will write more about later. It’s tangible and creates a new layer to the NFT experience.
Step 4: Art Space, Not Ad Space
On the heels of collaborating with Dee, he introduced me to the legendary LA-grown graffiti artist, co-founder of Nasa Crew, and founder of Creative Recreation and ASIF, Rich Uno. Rich is street art royalty. Much like Dee, he needs no introduction in artist circles nor does he need BAYC to bolster his career. But both Rich and Dee saw something special in the NFT movement and the possibilities of what can be in the new space. They are also offering their talents to be immersed in and grow within our community.
To be frank, what I envisioned for the Kiki x Rich Uno collaboration pales in comparison to the finished art piece as well as my understanding of true art space. My initial vision was that Kiki would be painted on a paid wall in a hip, heavily-foot-trafficked area of Los Angeles. People would stop and wonder, “What is this?” and it would spark a domino effect of BAYC fomo.
Instead, spending time with Rich, Justin, and Hex of Nasa Crew cultivated a new appreciation for the ethos of street art and the role it plays in the community. He brought me to a sacred place of respect and a place meant for community art. This field trip really changed the way I approached the Kiki mural and the meaning behind it.
We did everything as a family: we went to buy spray paint together, we planned and we proofed layouts, we then spent the whole day together and I was even allowed to paint alongside them. That day was nothing short of magic. Teenage artists came by to talk with the Nasa Crew. People in the street stopped by to ask what BAYC meant. An entire family came to witness the live art session. People lowered their car windows and held up traffic to ask what it was and could they stop by later to watch?
The experience of the shared art was beyond what I imagined because I did not imagine that the very process of the mural would in-and-of-itself be such a formative community experience. But it was.
Typically art that is painted in that particular spot does not stay up for longer than a week or two. The high turnover is expected since it is a community art space. Going on five weeks, Kiki is still there, visible from the four-point intersection as well as two blocks away and viewable by a passenger on a train. She has been tagged by strangers many times and some of them BAYC members themselves. This section absolutely ties into the prior as a physical world tie-in to NFT but it also sparked the saying, @peterjfang coined: This is Art Space, Not Ad Space.
Art in the community space, meant to be a shared experience and valuable to both NFT and the public-at-large.
As a result of these collaborations, Dee Calvero and Rich Uno have joined me and @peterjfang to form a collective called Space Dust. We have exciting work ahead and very much looking forward to our future collaborations together focused on bridging NFT and IRL.
Step 6: Retaining Value Through Preserving the Owner Experience
BAYC 5273’s airdrops are intact. I have her original Bored Ape Kennel Club doggo. If and when the time comes when Kiki is to find a new home I have preserved and planned as much as possible to give the new owner the full BAYC experience. They will have the “full package” and also be able to experience something I never got a chance to do—mutate her with M1 and possibly M2. She hasn’t been replicated and all of the airdrops we received as BAYC owners will come with her. The longer time passes the more scarce the airdrops will be as a natural result of liquidity and trading and all the fun stuff that comes with participating in NFTs. I expect each NFT included in her sale to also increase in value and that is how I plan to preserve the genesis owner experience for the next person.