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How Some Bored Apes Blew Up
The psychology behind one of the biggest NFT projects.
What a time to be alive.
mRNA vaccines. Driverless cars. 24/7 Netflix entertainment. Food delivery services. Apes.
Yup. Or, more specifically, Bored Apes. On a yacht. Or something like that.
Earlier, we spoke about how NFTs bestow a sense of ownership to their buyers. I’ve since gone further down that rabbit hole where I found one of the biggest NFT projects launched to date.
The Bored Apes Yacht Club.
A collection of 10,000 unique NFTs, the cheapest currently sells for about $300,000. And with famous owners such as Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber and Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr (aka Snoop Dogg. Yeah, I know), it’s unsurprising there’s a lot of surrounding buzz.
But why is it actually so popular?
Curious about this, I put on my Sherlock Hat and probed further. Funny how just one peek at their homepage showed me more than I needed to know. In plain terms, it conveys a feeling of being locked out. I was left thinking — why can’t I enter this clubhouse? Is there a party going on inside? Will there be food?
It wasn’t until I looked again that I realised the letters scribbled in neon lights:
That’s when I realised there was something bigger at play here.
What is BAYC?
Perhaps the first thing you should know about the Bored Ape Yacht Club (referred to as BAYC from here on) is that it’s a non-fungible token collection. The second is that the collection has generated over $1 billion in sales. Developed by Yuga Labs, it currently exists on the Ethereum blockchain.
What started as a unique 10,000-piece project by 4 pseudonymous friends-turned-founders has become its own franchise.
“We want to promote an active, creative community. Part of that means making sure that if you own an ape, you can throw it on a T-shirt, make a print, or create your own derivative NFT using your ape, and sell it.” — BAYC
And they’ve certainly achieved this as they've gone on to create their very own altcoin Apecoin, and metaverse, Otherside. In fact, a movie is said to be in the works.
The entire premise is based on something fun and light yet somehow serious enough to provide material utility for its users.
What could possibly go wrong?
How FOMO affects us
“Fear of missing out” or FOMO is a relatively new term but not an entirely new concept. Popularised by the rise of social media platforms, it refers to the fear of not being included in something (such as an interesting or enjoyable activity) that others are.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn't BAYC’s fault. After all:
“It’s hard to have insiders if you don’t have outsiders.” — Seth Godin
This goes without saying for any venture, really. There’ll always be those that don’t buy into it. But for BAYC, the genius is in raising the stakes to an active—not passive—psychological level.
Today, more than ever before, we’re exposed to what everyone else seems to be doing. It’s not enough to know that our neighbour bought a brand new car. Now we also know that the stranger we bumped into three months ago did too.
This is beyond BAYC. FOMO is amplified by our current hyper-connectedness, thanks to the internet.
But the bigger deal beyond belonging is what the opposite entails — not belonging. Being left out. Being outside the safety of the tribe in evolutionary psychology.
So how do we overcome this nagging feeling?
The only way out is not to be overly concerned about what others do or think. But that’s easier said than done.
There’s something about the promise of luxe that appeals to us. I see it everywhere. It’s why expensive brands continue to have an edge in the market.
On the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Paris Hilton and the host traded NFT stories, particularly Bored Apes, which they own. Have Bored Apes become yet another status symbol since there always seems to be the Extremely Rich People’s Version of whatever the rest of us mortals have/use? But why does the idea of luxury affect us anyway?
This 2007 study revealed visible brain changes when we’re presented with the idea of luxury. The simple question was this:
Are more expensive things considered better?
The experiment went like this:
See, participants were given three different flavours of wine and asked to judge the taste. They were also told the varying price tags attached to each. However, unknown to them, two of the supposed three were actually the same but with different pricing. The wines were given in a randomised order.
The results were astonishing.
Subjects rated the more expensive wines with higher scores of pleasantness. The perceived cost had influenced the perceived taste, even when there was no real difference.
This is significant because it shows a more visceral finding. The study used functional brain scans, which showed increased activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex — basically one of the areas associated with the pleasant feeling.
It goes to show that we really do value the more opulent.
It’s aspirational. It gives us something to look forward to. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s at the peak of the ladder — self-actualisation. It gives us a sense of having accomplished much with our lives.
But are there less materialistic ways to strive for a sense of actualisation? Or what if this isn’t about the top of the hierarchy at all? What if it’s about the lowest rungs like safety or belonging/love — something that strikes at the very core of human desire, a non-tangible, non-materialistic essence?
Our socioeconomic status feeds into our ego but not necessarily in a bad way. It reinforces our subconscious need for security, even when we know all the money in the world can’t always buy that.
It takes a higher level of self-awareness to realise what is objective.
At the end of the day...
The real genius behind BAYC is offering something more tangible to its users in the form of benefits. Beyond the JPEGs, they’ve become a form of social currency.
“Owners of Bored Apes automatically become a member of an exclusive club, with perks ranging from early access to new offerings to the possibility of receiving the commercial usage right to purchased Bored Apes.” — CoinDesk
Community. Exclusivity. Utility.
“We loved this idea because it meant every token in the collection would have extra utility. If you own a token, any token, you’re now part of this exclusive club.” — BAYC
Love it or hate it, BAYC has built this cool thing. It’s a great case study on how immense, tangible value can be created from nothing on the internet and how the blockchain enables scarcity, attribution of ownership and exchange/liquidity.
Curious to see where they go from here and future use cases.