Virtual currency may not be replacing cash anytime soon, but if L’Officiel’s chief executive officer has any say, it will be a major new selling point for magazines working with brand advertisers.
Benjamin Eymere, who is part of the Jalou family that has owned the independent French magazine since the Fifties and became ceo a few years ago, has spent more than a year developing a virtual currency and a blockchain-backed platform that essentially creates a closed system of value and spending between L’Officiel, its advertisers and consumers.
Dubbed La Liste, the enterprise revolves around “Taste Tokens,” $100 million worth of which will be distributed to 500,000 people — two groups of recipients are now being selected based on status and income and a third group will be made up of readers who agree to answer a brand survey for $50 worth of Taste Tokens per question. Going forward, more tokens will be distributed based on how much time readers spend on the site engaging with content and, the trade is that L’Officiel will have a trove of spending data to analyze.
“We’ve created a virtual system and our visual system consists of rewarding people for their data,” Eymere said from his office in Paris.
But the idea for Taste Tokens didn’t hit him out of nowhere. Eymere has been interested in blockchain technology and Bitcoin for a few years and even harbors the notion that one’s “digital identity” is becoming more important than physical identity. He was at a conference about two years ago when a speaker talking about virtual currency, once a fringe idea in the tech community that’s hit the mainstream recently, said, “Cash is for losers because the problem with cash is that you can never decide how people are going to use it.”
Eymere thought it was “crazy” at the time, but as he started to notice problems in his industry of fashion media — like editors being sent things from brands they have no interest in and give away or sell, brands not having any real idea of what consumers or potential consumers are interested in buying and consumers being subjected to advertising and having their data stored with no payoff — he came around.
“When I go on the New York Times site, I pay to read an article, but I’m also subject to advertising so as a user it’s a bit strange because it seems like [the Times is] getting paid twice and also getting paid for my attention,” Eymere said.
He was also directly inspired by Basic Attention Token, which is part of a search engine founded by web entrepreneur Brendan Eich that rewards people who turn off their ad blocker. But Eymere wants to reward people for “their sophisticated attention,” not just attention period.
With La Liste, he’s hoping that he’s created something that all parties benefit from in a way that suits them. L’Officiel incentivizes readers and advertisers; advertisers have at least a guarantee that they’ll get deeper insights into consumer preferences and habits, if not a boost in product sales; consumers get to turn their data and clicks into online purchases. In practical terms, the Taste Tokens will be made part of L’Officiel’s advertising packages, so brands can choose to convert 10 percent of their ad spend into the virtual currency and make available chosen products — Dior is staring off with some jewelry, Chanel with perfume, Michael Kors with bags. And the brands will be handling all of the logistics. L’Officiel is the facilitator and Eymere, unlike a lot of other publishers, sees no benefit to becoming a de facto retailer. “The brands do it much better and it’s not the role of the media, frankly.”
There are also tiers of people getting Taste Tokens: a high-end group of celebrities, influential people and professional influencers, as well as bankers and members of the c-suite will be gifted between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of tokens. A second group of high-up fashion industry folk will be gifted between $20,000 and $50,000 in tokens and then readers who share their data and answer a survey will get the rest up to around $2,500 in tokens each.
The system could also function as a workaround of sorts for the stricter rules and guidelines around celebrities and influencers making sure products they’re being paid to promote are labeled as advertisements in some way. If an influencer gets paid in Taste Tokens and chooses items from a brand, technically that’s a purchase and wouldn’t need to be disclosed as anything but.
The whole enterprise seems like something every major fashion publisher would be eager to try, and Eymere doesn’t seem to mind the idea that his media currency would be copied, even though he sees it as too complex for a Hearst, Condé Nast or Facebook to put in place.
“For me, I think entrepreneurship is fluid,” Eymere said. “If you’re the first to change people’s minds, you’ve changed it forever. It doesn’t matter if you own it when you’re part of the system.”