Carson Ting grew up, professionally speaking, in the ad world, spending 17-plus years as an art director at ad agencies including Grey, Blast Radius, Taxi, DDB and Rethink.
In 2016, he pivoted slightly to launch his art and design studio Chairman Ting industries in Vancouver. His extraordinary talent as an illustrator and unique style made him popular with brands and agencies, who regularly commissioned him for special projects (we’ve written about his work here and here).
But last year, Ting started to work on a brand that was all his own, and he was building it for the still-nascent but much-hyped, dynamic, fast-growing and, let’s face it, confusing world of Web3.
In January, he introduced his Billion Buns to the world, and he did it in non-fungible form—888 NFTs, each a unique digital illustration of an alien bunny with a backstory (we’ll get to that), which sold out in 48 seconds at a combined sale price of more than $300,000. Ting donated about $25,000 to charities, and had some developer partners to pay, but still cleared about $250,000.
It was a huge success, but for Ting this was not just a non-fungible cash grab—it was just the beginning.
If all you know about NFTs is what you’ve heard about “Bored Ape” that’s a useful starting point to make sense of this story. Like the Apes, the Buns are simple digital illustrations that exist on a blockchain, meaning they’re not replicable and hold value as a one-of-kind digital asset, usually bought and sold using the cryptocurrency ethereum.
For Ting, the NFTs are a foundation of the brand itself, but also a platform from which IRL extensions can, and are, emerging. What began as an NFT, could become a line of T-shirts, toys, games or a TV show—and perhaps all of them.
The NFT space is such that once someone buys one, they don’t just think of themselves as owners of a digital asset, they think of themselves as stakeholders in an IP, says Ting. “Now I have this small community of people hungry to know what I’m doing next.”
The backstory for the Buns, which Ting dreamed up with a loose collective of “ex ad guys” including Dré Labre and Rob Tarry, is that the Buns are a “progressive and highly inquisitive” species of alien bunnies that had to abandon their home planet, Bananas, following a “cosmic solar storm.” Billions of them escaped to Earth in advanced, undetectable space shuttles. How will they blend into human civilization without being discovered?
That’s the starting point of the story that Ting and his partners can now take in any direction—even if we are in the midst of what Ting calls a “crypto winter.”
After interest in NFTs and cryptocurrency exploded and values soared last year—leading skeptics to conclude it was all a speculative bubble—prices and values have dropped significantly in recent weeks and months.
On OpenSea, some of the Buns are listed at the floor price of 0.1 ethereum or about $107, while the most expensive, #377 at right, is listed at 0.89 ethereum or $957.
But Ting is not concerned about the downturn in the market. “Now is good time to be builder,” he says. “To be building the product and the community and all that stuff required to make us successful.”
How do you do that in such a seemingly chaotic space? Why is a Bored Ape, for example, worth so more than one of his Buns? It’s hard to say, he admits. But rather than being frustrated by the illogicality of it, Ting is excited by it. “What I love about the NFT space is that there’s no playbook. It’s truly the wild wild west… Anything goes,” he says.
“It’s all about finding that magical hook to get the right traction,” he said. “I honestly learn something new every day in this Web3 space. For the most part, NFTs defy common logic, and as a creative professional, I find this very intriguing and exciting.”
That said, Ting is still an ad guy too, which means that the fundamentals of brand building still apply. The messaging is still about headlines, visuals, logos and taglines. And most of all it’s about the narrative.
“Coming from advertising, it’s always the story,” he says. “The advertising guy inside of me is always putting that advertising cap on and trying to put a narrative on it that could potentially make it sticky.”
He’s painted Billion Buns murals in Toronto, and a Billion Buns dragon boat in Vancouver. They’re launching merchandise in Vancouver soon (see below), releasing a limited run of 1,500 Billion Buns Wize Tea cans in early August, and developing an animated show with Keith Stride and Rob Turner of Brandomatic, and Chris Bartleman, a seasoned production executive producer who has produced shows like My Little Pony.
And a new NFT drop, “Space Buns” is in the works for later this summer, launching with a vinyl toy. “And we are providing our community with bespoke 3D art file templates for people to do their own customizations digitally and physically,” he says.
For now, Ting is still doing the traditional work his studio has done for six years, and he is also starting to work with other brands who are NFT curious. But he hopes that Billion Buns will catch on enough that he can eventually spend all his time on them.
“I want this to be a full-time thing, and really just doing a million different spin offs,” he says. “As an advertiser, you always try to make other brands famous. And now here I am using my advertising know-how to build a brand from the ground up. It’s much more personal and much more fulfilling.”