Monetizing Exclusivity: How NFTs Market More Than Just Digital Photos

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are quickly taking over the Internet—but what are they? We look at Ether Rock, one of the earliest tokens to hit the market, to understand their appeal.

Photo: Jessica Ruscello via <a href="">Unsplash</a>
Photo: Jessica Ruscello via Unsplash

What if I told you you could buy a digital picture of a rock for over $1 million? No, no, not a famous photo of the Grand Canyon or anything like that. An NFT clip-art picture of a gray, average, run-of-the-mill rock. And yes, for a million dollars.

You’d probably respond with some variation of, “Are you kidding me?” or “No, thank you,” or “Yeah, right.” But it’s true: these digital rocks have sold for as much as 400 ether, or $1.3 million. They’re called Ether Rocks, and they’ve risen to become one of the most expensive NFTs out there.

But let’s back up. First, what are NFTs? And how are digital rocks worth that much dough?

NFTs are “non-fungible tokens,” a type of cryptocurrency that is unique—it can’t be replaced with something else. You’ve probably heard of other crypto investments like Bitcoin, which can be exchanged like-for-like; one Bitcoin is replaceable by the next. Cryptocurrency like Ether Rock, on the other hand, is different. Only 100 rocks are available at a time, and each “virgin rock” created on the Ethereum blockchain is more valuable—more expensive—than the last. So while all Ether Rocks are identical in design (save for color variances), they’re not created equal in value. 

If you’re still wondering what this Ether Rock madness is all about, you’re not alone. Let’s dive in. 

The pursuit of status, one rock at a time

So, who in their right mind is shelling out over a million dollars for a clip-art rock?

Other than bragging rights, owning an Ether Rock NFT doesn’t actually serve any practical purpose. Think of it as collecting a rare baseball card or a piece of fine art. Besides showing it off to friends and family when they come over for dinner, it doesn’t really do anything.

Basically, an Ether Rock is a digital version of a Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle baseball card. With only 100 rocks available, those who purchase them are in the pursuit of status. In fact, the Ether Rock website quite literally states, “These virtual rocks serve NO PURPOSE beyond being able to be bought and sold, giving you a strong sense of pride in being an owner of 1 of the only 100 rocks in the game.” A statement that would drive most people away, but that catches the eye of those looking to be part of an exclusive and high-brow club.

Justin Sun, for example, is one such club member. A crypto-mogul, Sun took to Twitter to announce his “half-million dollar” purchase. Buyers like Sun have been made to believe that by purchasing this rare rock clip art, they’ve bought something exceptionally valuable—even if that “something” is locked inside a computer screen. 

A market for nostalgia 

Ether Rock hit the market in late 2017 as one of the earliest NFTs, yet they weren’t popular at the time. In fact, Ether Rock and the other available NFTs of recent years remained mostly unclaimed until this summer. Now, we’re in the midst of an NFT boom, and the past couple of months have seen rocks flying off the digital shelves left and right, skyrocketing in value with each purchase. 

Therefore, buying Ether Rock is seen as a crypto investment. Not only is Ether Rock an early NFT, but it is actually inspired by a 1975 Pet Rock toy craze, which means that the rocks represent more than one important historical moment. And because we know that there are few things more marketable than nostalgia, it’s not crazy to speculate that these NFTs could only continue to rise in value. 

In other words, an Ether Rock purchase might not just be for an ego boost and bragging rights. Ether Rocks could very well be a sentimental digital collectible that elicits more and more nostalgia—and therefore increases in monetary worth—as the years drag on.

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Supply and demand

As of now, all 100 “virgin rocks” have been sold fresh off the Ethereum blockchain (for, once again, exorbitant amounts), and are now officially owned by those buyers. 

But owners can list their toys for sale at any moment, in hopes of finding a buyer interested in a “non-virgin” rock. What’s interesting, though, is that copies of these images are actually free and downloadable. You can download a “print” of your favorite Ether Rock even if you’re not the rock’s owner, just as you can download a print of your favorite Picasso painting.

The key difference, however, is that Ether Rocks aren’t beautiful, intricate Picasso paintings; they’re clip-art pictures of rocks that—let’s be honest—aren’t interesting to look at for more than a couple of seconds. The appeal, instead, is scarcity. By limiting rock supply to 100, they’re branding the rocks as rare and exclusive, marketing something that people are willing to pay for. 

Ready to invest in unique copy that will elevate the value of your business? Our writing team at MarketSmiths is ready to work with you.

Rachel Carp

Rachel Carp

Rachel is a Philly native who came to New York after a freelance stint that ranged from blog writing to social media copy to personal essays. When she’s not click-clacking away at her computer, Rachel can be found listening to true crime podcasts and online window shopping.

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