Ten months ago I was planning my first NFT release. Some friends of mine had told me about the technology in late 2020 and I was getting really excited about doing the first yo-yo related NFT, but as I was researching my release I started to hear about some of the downsides of NFTs and the blockchain. The big one for me was the environmental impact of crypto. Ethereum, which runs on a Proof Of Work system, seemed particularly bad, so I decided to cancel my release until the energy issues around NFTs were better handled, but as I kept learning about the technology I kept about the rampant fraud, identity theft, and rugpulls in the blockchain space and I decided to avoid it all together.
I can easily imagine how different my opinion would be if I had just found those things out a few weeks later. I’d probably be more defensive of the tech and shushing naysayers. So I’m pretty sympathetic when I hear an artist or brand announcing an NFT, then getting absolutely trashed by their fans for endorsing that technology. Whats important is how that artist reacts next. A few, like Aphex Twin, kept pushing their NFT but promised to plant some trees with the funds they raised. That didn’t go over well.
Since the NFT fad hasn’t died yet, I wanted to focus on how some folks announced NFT releases then cancelled them after hearing a massive backlash from their fans. It must have been a difficult decision for many of these people, who most likely worked very hard on their projects, but there hasn’t been a single NFT announcement that I can recall going well. Fans clearly don’t want them. By cancelling these NFT releases, the brands have showed that are listening and are trying to earn their fans trust.
Tim & Eric– This was one of the first NFT projects I can remember getting hyped up then cancelled. Their original plan was to release some popular clips from the Tim & Eric Good Job Show as NFTs, including the classic brain-exploding clip that you’ve probably seen in GIF form all around the internet. Their fans pointed out how terrible NFTs were and the duo quickly cancelled their NFTs. This apology from Tim Heidecker is pure class:
Ten Hundred- This one really hits home for me, because it happened at the same time I had decided to scrap my project. Like Ten Hundred, I was documenting my journey into NFTS when I learned how terrible they were. I then started updating my video to talk about why I was cancelling my NFTs, but when I saw Ten Hundred’s “My Art Almost Destroyed The Environment” video, I knew I couldn’t really top it. His video shows how excited he was at the beginning of the project and how hard it was to learn about the downsides of crypto. It’s a great video and led me to sponsoring him on Ten Hundred. I highly recommend watching it!
The Gorillaz- This was one of the first big NFT projects to go bad. More and more bigger brands were hoping on the NFT train and all of them were getting dragged for it. It’s easy to make fun Burger King or Charmin Toilet Paper when they do something absolutely stupid, but when one of your favorite bands tries releasing an NFT, things get personal. That’s exactly what happened when The Gorillaz announced a line of NFTs back in March. This decision was said to be “out of the bands hands” and something the label was pushing for, but fans would not back off. Many cited the band’s seemingly pro-environmental stance as a reason not to touch NFTs. For whatever reason though, the NFTs never dropped. In June Jamie Hewll, a co-founder of the Gorillaz, said the NFTs had been cancelled.
Dune Film (Legendary Entertainment)- Surprisingly, almost all of the examples above took place in March of 2021. That was a crazy boom month for NFTs, and for a wave of NFT scams and plagiarism that I documented in this Twitter thread. I feel like there was a bit of a lull over the summer, maybe because most brands were starting to see the toxic reputation around anything crypto/NFT. I was shocked when I heard that Legendary Entertainment was doing an NFT to promote the release of Dune. I had gone out of my way not to watch any trailers or read any press about the film so I could enjoy it fresh… then the first bit of news I hear is that they are doing an NFT. I wrote about that disastrous PR move here.
As with the Gorillaz release, fans seemed extra pissed since they saw Frank Herbert’s Dune as a having strong themes about conserving the environment. About a week after their announcement, someone from Legendary told a reporter at The Fast Co that the NFTs were “suspended”.
Discord- Then in November, the CEO of Discord teased that the company was exploring integrating NFT and blockchain features into their service. Most of the examples on this list have been artists, but this was the first tech company to get backlash for pushing NFTs. It’s worth noting that many of Discord’s users are the same sort of fans who were upset in the previous example. Discord has many strong communities built around fandom of games, movies, art, or other niche interests. These fans didn’t want to see NFTs in their servers. Sort of like Legendary’s NFT exit, this was sort of a non-apology that indicates that Discord is probably still working on this NFT integration, but they are doing it more quietly now.
Realms Of Ruin- Oops, I totally forgot that in October a group of YA authors banded together to form Realms Of Ruin. RoR was pitched as a rich and collaborative story told through NFTS. The project was cancelled 5 hours after its announcement.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2- The most recent of all of these cancelled NFT projects comes from GSC Game World, the makers of the upcoming game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. On December 16th, the company tweeted they’d “let the community own a piece of STALKER 2” via sales of NFTs. The backlash happened immediately. If you think music fans hated NFTs, you should see what gamers think of it. Gamers are sick of how game makers are constantly adding new forms of pay-to-play to their games and are scared of the same thing happening through NFT sales. 3 days later GSC Game World reacted to this backlash by sharing one of those “notes” style apologies that youtubers use when they’ve done something really bad, but this one was doubling down on the NFT announcement. 90 minutes later the team announced the NFTs were cancelled in this surprisingly classy apology:
Honorable mention: Lil Nas X and TikTok- TikTok tried jumping in on the NFT bandwagon over the summer by promoting new NFTs from huge musicians like Lil Nas X. Fans hated this announcement and flooded all of Lil Nas’s tweets with anti-NFT comments for weeks. These NFTs never came out and some insiders say the project was scrapped because of the negative backlash. It sucks that Lil Nas X never addressed the issue though. In fact he’s done promotions for some super shady bitcoin ads with CASHAPP since then.
No Fucking Thanks
So what can we learn from this? If you work in marketing and your boss says “NFTs are big… we should make one here!” you should speak up. Save your company from all that bad PR and money washed down the drain. I can’t imagine at this point how companies are still jumping in on this fad thinking their fans will be happy. Legendary didn’t need that extra money. They seriously thought NFTs would bring them good publicity! How crazy is that?
If you did try releasing an NFT and your fans are hating on you for it, look at the examples above and think about how you want to be perceived. You can be like Jason Citron and try the lame non-apology/noncommittal vibe, and have your fans assume you are still working on the thing in secret. But wouldn’t you rather be proactive and listening to your fans? Look at the examples from Tim & Eric and Ten Hundred to see how to handle this with class. Look at the reaction that fans gave when STALKER 2 said they weren’t going to do NFTs. They turned bad PR completely around by just being straightforward about the mistake they made and saying they wont consider it again.