Mastercard's CMCO on What to Expect at CES and Why He's Still Bullish on Web3

The credit card company just launched a new accelerator program for up-and-coming music artists

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As one of the biggest financial payment processors in the world, Mastercard has the potential to play a major role in the future of the constellation of cryptocurrency-adjacent technologies known as web3.

That’s why it’s notable that Raja Rajamannar, the brand’s chief marketing and communications officer and healthcare business president, said he is still overall bullish on what proponents say is the next iteration of the internet. Today, Mastercard announced a new accelerator program to help introduce emerging artists in the music industry to web3 as a medium at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas.

Built on the Polygon blockchain, the program will guide an inaugural class of five musicians through the basics of building fan bases. It will use tech like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and otherwise prepare them for the digital music economy. The accelerator will culminate in a livestreamed showcase at some point this year in which artists will put their new skills to the test.

“It’s basically a complete ecosystem we are creating,” Rajamannar told Adweek. “It’ll be for emerging artists—they know how to create music, but they rarely make money out of their craft. So we’d like to see how we can help and enable them.”

The program will also tie into a separate NFT that Mastercard is offering called Mastercard Music Pass, which connects holders to educational materials around web3 and music.

Web3 in flux

The announcement comes as some brands are starting to grow wary of the web3 space amid declines in cryptocurrency and NFT sales. Rajamannar stressed that the label is a broad banner that encompasses many different technologies, some more mature than others.

“What we see is there are some components of web3 which will be really establishing and taking off pretty quickly,” Rajamannar said. “And there are some which will take a little longer period.”

One of the technologies under that umbrella that seems most promising in the near term is augmented reality, he said, which has become increasingly popular as a way for brands to solicit virtual product try-ons and engage with consumers remotely.

While major cryptocurrencies might be hurting in the wake of FTX’s collapse last year, Rajamannar said he sees stablecoins—less volatile digital currencies tied to the price of a specific asset—and online currencies sponsored by central banks around the world as more promising at the moment.

“I would say that there are some components of cryptocurrencies, which will really do well, like the [Central Bank Digital Currencies] and the stablecoins to some extent,” Rajamannar said.

Economic uncertainty

One question on the minds of marketers at CES is how much the looming potential for a recession in the next year and tightening budgets might influence the kinds of tech that sees investment. Rajamannar said investing in innovation is more important than ever in this sort of environment as a way to make every dollar go further.

“Pulling back on innovation is not a smart idea,” he said. “For marketing budgets, we have not been pulling back at all on the investment behind marketing innovation.”

Nevertheless, Rajammanar believes that the lack of investment in innovation will likely be down overall this year as decision makers rein in budgets across the board.

“Many of the companies in general, are looking at this as a period of uncertainty—not knowing exactly where things will go,” Rajamannar said. “And therefore the investment might not be at the full level they would be in a normal year … That has of course a trickle-down effect across the kinds of investment that will be made.”