How far can we go? Ben Mayor White talks adidas and why the future of branding is in web3

Léa Rose Emery
September 14, 2022
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Adidas' drop with Bored Ape Yacht Club, PUNKS Comic, and gmoney will always be one of web3's most iconic moments. It's architect was Ben Mayor White, the British creative strategist who counts Google and the BBC on his résumé. He speaks with Leo Nasskau about what really happened at adidas, how web3 is building the brands of the future, and feeling a little bit like Keanu Reeves. Léa Rose Emery tells the story.

This interview is available as a podcast on Spotify.

“The real distinction for me is community.” Ben Mayor White, “creative strategist” and general creative powerhouse, is both a web3 native and a vocal advocate. But perhaps what sets him apart most is his deftness at helping partners develop authentic web3 strategies — and his passion for watching the space and communities evolve.

Even before discovering NFTs, Ben was au fait with all things digital. “I’ve probably been in digital social media since about 2009 — working with big brands and small brands, being an activist as well.” The organisations on his CV range from Google and the BBC to Bite the Ballot, a social enterprise that helps young people register to vote, and his enthusiasm for every nook and cranny of web3 is palpable. “I'm a Bored Ape and living life as a child in the metaverse,” he effuses through the Mutant Ape avatar that he uses for all his video calls.

Born in the mid-eighties, his digital curiosity was piqued by the technology developing throughout his childhood, epitomised by the arrival of the GameBoy in 1990. But he was just as captivated by the potential of the technology as he was by the reality. “I was born in the North of England and didn't have great access to amazing computers and stuff. So I was just always fascinated by what was possible.”

A passionate advocate for web3, Ben built a career helping people, brands, and causes tell their stories through new media.

His real entry into the digital space came through social media. First, building a business on keyword tracking whilst living in Ibiza, and then at COPA90, a fan-first football media company, where he was quickly put in charge of audience development for the channel — helping evolve the strategy to focus on native gamers and FIFA YouTubers. It was an early example of Ben’s ability to spot the direction of travel, while at the same time keeping the user experience and sense of community at the forefront of his thinking. “We created formats with them as the leads or the protagonists. We created characters like The FIFA Player who was an anonymous gamer. A lot of it was building up arguments on Twitter and Instagram, between the people playing. So kind of like a precursor to what's happening again now, with different anons online.”

His experience was a formative one, learning how to develop strategic partners and helping push forward the company by understanding how people were really using the web. “I left there feeling a little bit like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix — like ‘I know kung-fu’, but it's like 'I understand the internet.’” He used this new-found knowledge as he “swerved into activism” at an NGO called Bite The Ballot, working with Jamal Edwards, the late entrepreneur and musician, where he helped register half a million people to vote. Soon he was consulting for big hitters like the BBC and Disney, before moving to adidas in early 2020.

Ben turned his Mutant Ape into an avatar for video calls. “I'm a Bored Ape and living life as a child in the metaverse,” is his tried and tested one line intro.

Already a sharpened social media mind, it wasn’t until a holiday in December 2020 that Ben came across web3 — and everything changed. “Unfortunately for my wife,” he jokes, “I read 'NFT' and was like, what are those letters?” His entrance to web3 focused on the technological opportunities of smart contracts, and he instantly made the cultural connection. “Almost immediately, I believed that this is how we're going to transact across reality, or across realities.”

He took this passion back to adidas. “I was asking and quizzing everyone: Is there a department? Is there anyone working on this? Is it in an innovation department or something?” Soon, an unofficial task force was formed, an exhilarating group of cultural futurists dragging the clothing behemoth into web3. But in the company of 70,000 or so employees, Ben estimates only “three or four had a digital wallet” at the time, with just  20 “actively working” as part of the unofficial group. He points to one colleague who had known about NFTs since 2018 and had tried to push the company toward web3 — ”but obviously it was really too early”.  Now, with more people on board, and a greater public awareness of web3, the needle could finally shift.

“We didn't come in as adidas, like ‘hey, here we are, make it in our own silo’ and think that we can enter the space without taking our hats off to the people that had built it.”

— Ben Mayor White

“It was terrifying and really difficult,” he recalls of his time galvanises the group in the early months of the pandemic. “As a group of people, we'd never really met or worked together. It was a real team feeling. We were like ‘Oh, if we can do this, though — if we actually could — it's gonna be crazy’.”

And it was. Produced in collaboration with the Bored Ape Yacht Club, PUNKS Comic, and gmoney, adidas’ Into The Metaverse (ITM) collection comprises 30,000 NFTs, each entitling the owner to physical merch and, more importantly, adidas’ own ITM universe. Ben is quick to point out that its success was based upon the connection and partnerships with leaders in the space. “We didn't come in as adidas, like ‘hey, here we are, make it in our own silo’ and think that we can basically enter the space without taking our hats off to the people that had built it or partnering authentically with them.”

Adidas' NFT collection leans heavily into web3-native brands like Bored Ape Yacht Club, PUNKS Comic, and gmoney.

The authenticity paid off  — almost instantaneously, the drop brought in over $23 million, split between the four partners. “We broke Etherscan, we broke Discord, we broke OpenSea. The website somehow didn't break, so shout out to our partners there that made such a great website,” he laughs. “But there were 20, 30, 40 million hits. It was a defining moment for sure.”

This deep-rooted understanding that those most committed to the space are not only authentic but are also the most innovative, shapes Ben’s vision. He points to gmoney’s new luxury fashion brand 9dcc. “He wants to help high fashion come into the space and he can see himself as a guide there. I’m super proud of him. I love the way it was done.” The integration of technology and community was key — the fact that the actual clothes could be vaulted or shipped, with members of gmoney’s existing Admit One ecosystem prioritised. “It’s creating a brand upon a brand and intellectual property within intellectual property.”

“I promise you that it will go to the rest of the world and it's the community that will do it.”

— Ben Mayor White

And that gradual development — the growing community, the continued integration — is what Ben is sure has created something irreplaceable about the early adopters of NFTs. “There were a lot of other people that were fantastic in their different ways. [NFTs give them] access to the IP, which ignited a bunch of creatives, and people who were probably bored in their day jobs; they all ignited here in a community.”

Adidas' Bored Ape (Indigo Hertz), PUNKS Comic's Courtney, and gmoney: the three characters at the heart of Adidas's Into The Metaverse universe.

He cautions not to underestimate the web3-native brands that are being built with NFTs. “Remember the people that are Bored Apes or Doodles or whatever, that’s not all they are. They're professionals across the spectrum. The reason why Ape Fest and these things are working, is because Yuga Labs raised $450 million and are hiring great people from across the spectrum in different areas.” These early creators have “written a compelling story, a narrative”, but they’re also experienced professionals, and they understand culture in a way that Ben thinks “brands will struggle and are struggling with.”

“Now you walk into a toy shop and you see Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft toys there — you will see Bored Apes, you will see Pudgy Penguins, they will be on television programs, they will be on Netflix. I promise you that it will go to the rest of the world and it's the community that will do it.” That's a bet he's making with his own career. Having left adidas, he is setting out on his own to grow truly web3-native brands. He points to the likes of like Wagmi-san’s 10KTF community, Wagmi United’s purchase of British football club Crawley Town, and PFP communities like Pudgy Penguins as different kinds of web3-native initiatives that can all evolve to become so much more than they are today. “It will just be across everything. But it's gonna take a bit of time.”

The same creativity, curiosity, and innovative drive that led him to web3 in the first place is what drives him onwards. “I love storytelling,” he summarises. “So I'm really excited about partnering with great IP, great communities and pushing it forward. How far can we go? And what can we create?”

Written by
Léa Rose Emery
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Léa is an American writer, editor, broadcaster, and presenter based in London. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post, WhatWeSeee, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Teen Vogue, and The Daily Dot. She is working on her first book.

Collaborators and honourable contributors:

@benmayorwhite, interviewed by @leo___sn

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