Burger King this month launched its Keep It Real Meals — custom orders curated by a trio of celebrity ambassadors under their actual names — as part of its marketing around the elimination of 120 artificial ingredients from its menu.

To extend the effort, the fast food chain partnered with nonfungible token (NFT) marketplace Sweet on a set-completion game that aims to elevate the technology from digital art-based marketing stunt into a tool for consumer engagement. Guests can scan a QR code on each Keep It Real Meal box to receive one of three collective NFT game pieces, according to details shared with Marketing Dive. When the full set is collected, guests are programmatically provided a fourth NFT, a reward that could be a 3D digital collectible, free Whopper sandwiches for a year, autographed merchandise or a call with one of the campaign’s celebrity ambassadors.

“We’re taking more of an enterprise solutions-based approach to NFTs,” said Sweet founder and CEO Tom Mizzone. “How do you enable brands to go beyond crypto art drops and move into consumer experiences?”

The Keep It Real Meal NFTs let Burger King and Sweet use the blockchain-based tech in a long-term, permanent way, as opposed to the auctions of kitschy digital art that earlier this year became the de rigueur way for brands to weave NFTs in their marketing. Instead of a physical toy in a meal box, the NFT is a virtual gift that comes with all the applications the digital world allows.

“We’ve put a lot of tech into really empowering brands to take that next step, whether that’s integrating it to loyalty platforms, integrating it to games or integrating it to consumer experiences that drive engagement, like we’re doing here,” he said.

Burger King’s NFT push comes weeks after it rolled out its Royal Perks loyalty program nationwide, continuing the chain’s investment into digital platforms that have become increasingly essential as the pandemic continues to upend and accelerate consumer trends. At the start of 2021, Burger King introduced its first rebrand in more than 20 years as it sought to demonstrate its commitment to “digital-first expression.”

NFTs and the metaverse

Several new applications of NFTs have begun to crystalize as brands experiment with the tech and platforms like Facebook’s embrace of the “metaverse,” the convergence of physical and digital worlds. Some major marketers are tuning into the metaversal use of NFTs: Coca-Cola’s first one included merch that can be “worn” in the 3D virtual reality platform Decentraland. Yet, just 38% of global consumers are familiar with the concept of the metaverse, per a new Wunderman Thompson Intelligence report, presenting hurdles for brands looking to tap the tech.

“You’ve got to make this easy to broader consumer bases before any of this can really have mass adoption,” Mizzone explained. “If you can break those barriers and you demystify what it means to actually collect an NFT and own an NFT, then that starts to open up much broader use cases.”

Those wider uses could present a tremendous opportunity for brands to drive incremental revenue by engaging their consumer bases, like with the kind of gamified experience that Burger King has rolled out. The expansion of digital assets in the metaverse could also help marketers connect with consumers without having to stick to the major platforms that dominate digital advertising.

“We’re just scratching the surface [with NFTs] and we really want to be pushing the boundaries on how we can empower brands and consumers around this technology.”

Tom Mizzone

Founder and CEO, Sweet

“We’re big believers in open economies and not creating walled gardens. The more that you have everybody playing in that same vein, where things can move freely in between metaverses [or] in between games, it gets even more interesting for the consumers and for the brands,” Mizzone said.

Like those walled gardens, NFTs are not immune from issues of brand safety. The product chief of NFT trading marketplace OpenSea was recently accused of engaging in insider trading of the digital assets. But rather than encouraging bad actors, Mizzone believes the blockchain technology behind NFTs actually makes brand activations safer.

“When you start to create completion awards and gamified collection experiences, it’s absolutely critical that those pieces are authentic. The beauty of the open ledger technology and using an NFT for these game pieces is that they can truly be validated. There’s no way that anyone can inject new pieces into this ecosystem,” he explained.

While brand adoption of NFTs is relatively new, the technology and speed of culture have already accelerated to the point where the one-off NFTs that brands released earlier this year feel dated. Mizzone compares the technology to the internet itself.

“I started my first company in ’95, and we were all ‘surfing the web’ on Netscape Navigator, and we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, the internet’s arrived. What more could it ever become?'” he recalls. “We’re just scratching the surface [with NFTs] and we really want to be pushing the boundaries on how we can empower brands and consumers around this technology.”