Disney Does NOT ‘Partner’ With Crypto Companies

Language matters and crypto continues to play fast-and-loose with it, to its long-term detriment.

AccessTimeIconNov 17, 2023 at 8:16 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 9, 2024 at 1:56 a.m. UTC
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On Tuesday, I wrote and published a column breaking the news of and reflecting on Dapper Labs' recently announced tie-up with Disney, the storied, 100-year-old entertainment company which, under CEO Bob Iger’s leadership, has become even more of an intellectual property owning powerhouse and tech follower. This article contained a few errors.

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Most embarrassingly I misspelled the surname of one of my sources, Dapper Labs vice president of partnerships Ridhima Khan, and misattributed one of her quotes to CEO Roham Gharegozlou. Those errors have been corrected, and are regretted.

More importantly, however, a central claim of the article — that Dapper and Disney were “partners” in a venture called Disney Pinnacle, which will license Disney IP and sell digital tokens modeled after collectible pins — now appears to be incorrect.

As per Dapper Labs head of PR Rachel Rogers, on Thursday, two days after the story published:

“Also, Disney didn’t launch the Disney Pinnacle platform. Dapper Labs did in collaboration with Disney. Can you update? Disney does not use the word partner - only collaborates with or teams up with.”

The news was picked up by and cited by a number of widely-read tech news outlets, some of which have received similar requests from Dapper to wipe the term partner from the record. I’m writing this story, in part, to correct the record: Disney is not partnering with Dapper. Disney, which has not responded to a request for comment, will likely never partner with a crypto company.

Instead, Disney is licensing its IP to Dapper. The terms and conditions of the deal are unknown. When asked, Dapper said: “Like all of our partnerships, we can’t comment on financial breakdowns." I asked a few different ways, a few different times in a call with Khan and Gharegozlou as well as in emailed follow up questions.

It’s not unreasonable to think that “a licensed partner for Disney,” as Dapper also initially described the arrangement, could be paying for the privilege. Such financial deals are not uncommon in the world of NFTs. What is being licensed is valuable property.

In a call, Gharegozlou and Khan suggested Disney has been in close contact with Dapper through the development process — though Dapper is doing all the building. The mobile app is not yet launched, only the waitlist opened on Tuesday.

In my article, I basically argued that this project could have potential to be one of the few non-cringy NFT experiments. I argued that Disney has a large fanbase, full of people who like to collect Disney junk. It makes sense to work with recognizable content that people already have an emotional connection with, rather than to get them to buy what could be described as a JPEG with a blockchain pointer.

Otherwise, you end up with something like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, because it's next to impossible to build a brand from the ground up. And the Yacht Club is essentially the most successful “bootstrapped” NFT project to date, if you want to call paying or otherwise enticing celebrities to shill their bags bootstrapped.

I mean, as I argued, Dapper’s earlier experience could also be called successful by the standards of crypto. NBA Top Shots, where Dapper pioneered the concept of licensing beloved IP to sell tokens, does not see much action today, but at one time it was essentially the crown jewel of Dapper properties and significant part of the reason Dapper was, now in hindsight, comically overvalued.

Assuming Disney Pinnacle is still happening – even though it seems like Disney chewed Dapper out for claiming they were “partnered” in a crypto cash grab – it might even still be successful. People buy Disney merchandise even though it is often intrinsically valueless, and it’s not yet clear whether Disney fanatics have a guttural hatred of NFTs like some consumer segments, like gamers.

It could work! And if it does, it’ll be as much because of Dapper’s design work as Disney’s property. But it’s not a partnership.

I’m not exactly sure why Gharegozlou, Khan and Rogers were all so adamant about calling it a partnership. The term was used a lot. And I made sure to ask several times in several different ways how to describe the working relationship precisely because crypto companies often incorrectly use the term partner or oversell their relationships with established brands.

Like, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a company call a Google Cloud subscription a deal. Ethereum is reliant on Amazon, but Amazon is not an Ethereum backer in any traditional sense.

And I get it, at least in Dapper’s case I’m sure it was an honest mistake. Khan said she went to Disneyland nearly 20 times as the main liaison and reason the non-partnership happened between Disney and Dapper. I enjoyed speaking with them, and thought Gharegozlou to be uncommonly gregarious for someone in his position.

. But I do find the request to essentially retcon the story morally questionable. As I told Rogers in an email, “I cannot change quotes, and I cannot change the fact that partner/partnership was the term used by Roham and Ridhima and in written communications from the company.”

I can’t change their quotes. At the time of publication the information was accurate. We’re not in the business of doing favors for companies, and if we granted this request it would open a can of worms for everytime a source says something on the record they come to regret.

The part of the job I like best is calling a spade a spade. Another one of Dapper’s ignominious requests was to change a comment made about “investing” in NFTs when asked about the differences between digital and tangible collectibles. I get it, discussing NFTs as financial assets opens up a regulatory attack surface. But to suggest that you can INVEST in physical pins but only COLLECT digital ones is silly.

NFTs are investments, they're treated as investments and in my brief communications with Dapper we spoke about them as investments and collectibles. And in the absence of any solid information about the “pins,” like whether they come with perks like Disney discounts or opportunities, presumably one of the major reasons to buy one is because it could appreciate in value.

Dapper is not alone here. Crypto has an honesty crisis. The industry is not only overrun with fraud, literal measurable fraud, it is in the business of deceiving people. Crypto is a technology without a use case, which is promised to solve every problem and has failed by nearly every measure. The thing crypto is actually good for — buying things online you don’t want on a credit card statement — is entirely underplayed.

There is no way a decade of misrepresentation does not end up causing collateral damage. In many ways it already has. Crypto has a bad reputation, and not even in a cool way — in a way that screams low social standing and dishonesty. And for good reason. Millions of people collectively lost billions of dollars. A technology that is supposed to be about sticking it to the man is obsequious.

In other words: Crypto is cringy and untrustworthy. It is the George Santos of financial technology.

And it’s not going to get better unless its leaders give honesty a try. Pretend it’s a profession.


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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.

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