The Rundown: How CoinDesk is using crypto tokens for in-person event sponsorship deals

The feature image is an illustration of a hand holding a smartphone with the word "News" on it and coins falling down.

Advertisers have been itching for the return of in-person events, largely to get back the face-to-face moments with attendees and what those experiential additives can do for brand awareness.

But with the looming recession, being able to track how many people engaged with a sponsor in person could become a significant currency for live event sponsorships, rather than looking at things like how many people were reached through event-related posts on social platforms. And it could be what’s needed to keep advertisers spending on large scale campaigns in the coming months. 

Crypto news publisher CoinDesk’s approach to measuring audience engagement has come in the form of a participation token called DESK. While it doesn’t carry any monetary value, the crypto token does provide the publisher’s conference Consensus, taking place June 9 through 12, with its own closed economy. Attendees can earn tokens by attending panels, going to events at night, joining the publisher’s Discord channel and even spending time with sponsors over the course of the four days. Those tokens are then able to be spent within the confines of the conference space in Austin, TX, on food, drinks, merchandise, experiences and NFTs. 

“DESK is not a currency, it is really a participation token. We really want people to use it,” said Sam Ewen, svp and head of CoinDesk Studios. “The idea [is] to create opportunities for our user base to gamify a conference and increase participation.” 

The key numbers: 

  • More than 1 billion DESK tokens will be available for in-person attendees to earn at Consensus. 
  • More than 15,000 people are expected to be on the ground at Consensus this year.
  • There are 500 locations around the conference where attendees can earn DESK.
  • Consensus has 267 sponsors this year, all of whom will use DESK in some capacity as part of their campaigns. 
  • During the beta test of DESK during the virtual Consensus conference last year, one-third of all attendees – about 3,000 people – claimed DESK at some point during the event, and those people on average earned DESK 10 different times throughout the event.

How it’s collected and spent 

Upon arrival to the conference, attendees will be airdropped a set number of DESK — about 500 DESK on average — to their crypto wallets, which they will be instructed to connect to their ticket. Each ticket tier (ranging from general admission of $1,299 to the $10,000 VIP piranha level) is awarded a set amount to get started, according to Ewen, who added that this will hopefully excite attendees.

“Our rule of thumb is that we want each participant to get enough DESK so that they can substantively try out the experiences, from buying a t-shirt with DESK to getting a drink at one of our music nights,” said Ewen. A similar model to airline miles, a t-shirt can range from 150-300 DESK, a drink can cost 100 DESK and a meal could be as much as 250 DESK, he said.

Then, throughout the conference, attendees will be able to collect DESK at different moments, which have been randomized because “we don’t want [attendees] to [be solely focused on] getting as much as possible, but we want people to really explore the conference,” Ewen added. 

The coins will both be collected and spent using QR codes that connect to attendees’ crypto wallets.

How advertisers are using DESK 

All sponsors are receiving DESK as an additive to their campaigns, meaning it is not something they are paying extra for, but each sponsorship level receives a different allotment of the tokens to distribute to attendees, according to Ewen. He would not disclose the sponsorship pricing range and how many DESK were allotted per tier.

Attendees will be able to earn DESK by visiting certain sponsors throughout the event, but they also will be able to exchange the tokens for products that sponsors provided. For example, last year’s virtual conference offered iPads and Ledger hardware wallets from sponsors that were available for purchase using DESK. 

Higher degree of ‘transparency and accountability’

This year, CoinDesk is primarily focused on getting attendees to explore the various elements of Consensus using DESK, including interacting with sponsors, but there are potential applications for sponsors that are appealing, like measuring how many interactions with attendees they receive during the conference.

For example, the ability to keep an eye on how attendees are engaging with the various aspects of the event via DESK could be attractive to advertisers because it adds a higher level of clarity in how a sponsorship performed for the advertiser, according to David Cohn, senior director of the Alpha Group, the in-house tech and media incubator for Advance Local.

“There’s a kind of transparency and accountability if you can trace the [token] back to a specific user. Everything is kind of on this ledger so as a sponsor, that question of are these numbers real is taken off the table,” Cohn said. 

For ad buyers, the appeal of DESK comes from the ability to track attendees’ movements throughout the conference, especially if that data can be collected on a year-over-year basis, by tracking the outgoing token transactions when an attendee visits its booth or engagement with a QR code scan.

“Any data source that would allow us to track anyone to a specific location – not an individual user, but collectively as a group – the cohesiveness over time, for most of our advertisers, that’s where we would find the most value,” said Seth Hargrave, CEO of media buying agency Media Two Interactive. This data can be used to create models, even from just 10% of participants using the DESK token, to compare year-to-year activity at Consensus, he added, which is an appealing data set. 

The future of DESK 

Right now, the only opportunity to earn and spend DESK is during the confines of the Consensus conference in Austin, TX. While virtual elements will be streamed online, virtual attendees will not be able to participate. 

That said, Ewen’s team is looking forward to the possibility of integrating DESK into other areas of CoinDesk’s online presence, like rewarding audiences who read articles on its website, similar to Decrypt’s utility token that launched last year.  

Having tested DESK in beta last year at its virtual Consensus conference on a test net, CoinDesk created a more permanent DESK economy on the Polygon network which is native to the Ethereum blockchain. This means, the DESK token lives on in a permanent manner for the publisher to access again down the line.

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