At the 1985 Wimbledon final, a 17-year-old Boris Becker serves to the backhand of Kevin Curran, who can do little but weakly deflect his return into the nearby spectators eagerly watching history being made. Becker then responds, arms and head raised to the heavens, with an adrenaline-fuelled shuffle that looks as though it could ignite the turf beneath his rubber soles.
The idea of capturing an emotion like that and carrying it in a vessel seems almost magical, but it's a task that a group of New Zealand creatives are currently working on furiously behind the scenes.
At the end of April, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (the storied organisation behind Wimbledon) confirmed the appointment of New Zealand NFT outfit Glorious Digital to work on a line of "digital masterpieces" that celebrate the history and legacy of the famous tennis tournament.
Given the magnitude of the creative challenge at stake, Glorious has called on the services of a little-known New Zealand agency Daylight to develop the form and shape these tokens will take on the blockchain.
The organisers have thus far kept their non-fungible tokens close to their chests, so it remains unclear which moments in the history of the tournament will actually make the final cut. The reference to Becker's epic victory at the top of this story is simply this writer's hopeful nod to that moment appearing in the final collection set to be released later this year.
For a bit of context here, a non-fungible token - or NFT - is a unique digital asset that sits on the blockchain and cannot be replicated. These tokens are already resulting in the multimillion-dollar trade of original art and music assets, which aficionados pay handsomely to acquire.
The obvious response from the critic here is that anything in the digital world could easily be screen-grabbed or downloaded and replicated a million times over quite easily.
And while that is certainly true, the art world offers a good counter to this argument. Indeed, anyone can take a picture of a masterpiece by Pablo Picasso or pay a paltry sum for a print but the true value exists in owning the original. The collector pays for exclusivity.
What the blockchain does is give you that exclusivity. Admittedly, this might not be for everyone. But those with enough money and enough passion for a project will pay a handsome sum for the privilege of owning something that no one else has.
Sports have long been comfortable bedfellows with collectables. From baseball cards to the Panini Fifa World Cup stickers, fans have always enjoyed getting their hands on something emblematic of their favourite players or moments. The appeal of NFTs is that we're now being offered the digital version of that.
Wimbledon has already seen the value tennis fans place on NFTs of iconic moments. An earlier token depicting the match-winning point of Andy Murray in the final of the 2013 tournament fetched US$177,000 ($273,000).
It appears this NFT simply served as the precursor of what's about to come next.
Bringing history to life
If something is going to fetch north of $250,000 at an auction, you'd expect it to be well-designed – which is why the team at Glorious had to bring in a creative partner to bring it to life.
Glorious co-founder Tim Harper said that they needed a partner with a combination of technical and creative ability to deliver on the project.
If you're wondering who Daylight is at this point you wouldn't be alone. In years gone by, a major project like this would have invariably gone to the big names in advertising: Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB or Colenso BBDO.
But the advertising world is also evolving and we're seeing the emergence of a range of interesting independent agencies in the local market – many of which bring digital nous and nimbleness.
Daylight was born in the middle of the pandemic, with the World Health Organisation as its single client. It was initially just a side hustle within the Spinoff Group, but company founder Duncan Greive saw an opportunity to turn it into something bigger.
"The WHO work was a nascent test case that showed you could create work in a different style that was impactful," says Greive.
An idea is one thing, but bringing it to life is a different task. Greive brought in Colenso alumni Lee Lowndes as managing director and Charlie Godinet as creative director.
Since then, Daylight has built on its client list, working with the Mental Health Foundation, Counties Manukau District Health Board, Human Rights Commission and Auckland Council on a number of projects.
So much of this work required a strong digital skillset that the business recently merged with digital agency Translate Digital, which now takes the full-time staff to 27 – not bad going for an agency that only started in 2021.
Lowndes says the project with Wimbledon really typifies the type of projects they want to work on.
"Charlie and the team are conceptualising, building and crafting the NFTs that will be launched," says Lowndes.
Given the long existence of the tournament, there's no shortage of content to choose from. The tricky part is actually picking the events that will make the final cut. Godinet gives away very little on the final lineup, advising that punters will have to wait until the final catalogue is released in the coming months.
The complexity of delivering on this project lies not only in developing the actual Wimbledon NFTs but also in explaining to the public the fundamentals of the technology and then delivering all that in a campaign that isn't esoteric.
"We still have to do huge educational pieces about what this actually is, so we're able to tap into that journalistic skillset of breaking down complex information and explaining it effectively to people who have never been part of the Web 3.0 world," says Godinet.
Beyond the TV campaign
The appeal for both Lowndes and Godinet in building Daylight from the ground up was that they could finally be unshackled from the constraints of the big agency model.
"Apart from a few clients that have owned media channels, we haven't really had to respond to a brief that has a set media plan in place," says Lowndes.
"As part of that initial creative response, we build ideas that naturally cascade across so many different touchpoints for a client."
Lowndes says that this differs markedly from her experiences in the traditional advertising landscape, where so many creative ideas continue to rely heavily on a 30-second TVC or a social media clip.
She says that an effective communications strategy should first work out what it's trying to say before deciding that a 30-second television clip is the answer.
This sentiment isn't unique to the team at Daylight. Independent advertising agencies often talk about the freedom they have to work in a way that's not beholden to the corporate overlords who send growth targets from abroad.
But keeping this nimbleness at the core of the business is easier said than done. Matt Dickinson, the founder of independent agency True, last year spoke frankly about how rapid growth can lead to even successful independent agencies moving away from the type of work that they want to do.
As the agency gets bigger, it becomes more difficult to remain tuned in to the purpose that was established at the begging.
So is Daylight management confident that it will be able to retain the agency's identity despite its rapid growth trajectory?
"We don't have huge ambitions to become the next big agency," responds Lowndes.
"I'd love to retain us at our current size, and maybe just grow a little on the digital side."
Lowndes says becoming much bigger would also expose Daylight to the risk of becoming reliant on two or three big accounts.
"At a big agency, you tend to have three key clients and all your eggs are in that basket. Then when one of them goes off to another shop down the road, you're sitting with 20 salaries that you're not able to pay."
She says that Daylight instead works across a number of different projects, some of which might be big like the work for Wimbledon but also smaller bits and pieces that might only cost a client $15,000.
"This does present its own challenges because there's always an immediate pipeline to fill and there's always a need for new business, but we're not dependent on huge, big, fat, juicy retainers."
This philosophy of not growing for the sake of growing is becoming an increasingly common theme across the independent advertising scene.
When advertising veteran Ben Goodale started his new advertising agency only days before the start of the first lockdown in 2020, he similarly outlined an intention to pursue a sustainable form of guilt. Having seen the impact of never-ending growth aspirations first-hand he also wanted to offer something different to his staff.
Lowndes says the impact of Covid-19 put a massive lens on the disconnect between the people working in advertising and what advertising agencies are generally trying to achieve. She says that this is part of the reason why some in the industry are currently searching for different ways to work.
"I think a huge topic [in advertising] at the moment is the misalignment between the personal values of staff and employers they're working with."
With staff showing a greater willingness to move at the moment and numerous independent agencies offering an alternative to the never-ending slog of incremental growth, it seems that other major projects, like Wimbledon's NFT aspirations, could also end in less familiar hands in the coming years.