Red Bull and Swarovski Are Testing Cryptocurrency Tokens in Exchange for Engagement

Kin's app Kinit debuted last month

The app, called KinIt, is the first test case for user interest in the crypto—and, in turn, the first test case for whether the promises of Kik’s $100 million initial coin offering will pan out. Swelly
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It’s been a year since the Canadian messaging app Kik created its own cryptocurrency to help brands engage with users—and to give Kik a way to differentiate itself from Facebook. Now, more of the pieces are falling into place, with brands trying out the crypto known as Kin.

Brands including Red Bull and Swarovski have been experimenting with Kin, giving fans tokens in exchange for time spent with polling questions that help the brands better understand their users.

Last month, Kin quietly released its own app for Android that doubles as a crypto wallet and lets users earn Kin by engaging with brands and other platforms via quizzes, surveys and videos.

The app, which is called Kinit, is the first test case for user interest in the crypto—and, in turn, the first test case for whether the promises of Kik’s $100 million initial coin offering will pan out.

Among the first companies to plug into Kinit is Swelly, which conducts polls for brands on platforms like Kik, Facebook Messenger and now Kinit. The Austrian company uses a chatbot to target audiences—especially U.S. and European users between the ages of 14 and 25—that might be interested in answering questions for brands.

According to Swelly CEO Peter Buchroithner, the company has built up a user base of 8 million, with monthly users in the millions. Since its 2016 debut, users have answered more than 200 million questions. While it didn’t offer rewards for questions in the beginning, the company later started offering points before it saw offering cryptocurrency as a way to further reward engagement. Swelly’s team considered doing its own ICO, but then came across Kik and thought it made more sense to use Kin rather than starting from scratch.

Over the past few weeks, Swelly has been conducting surveys for brands using Kin. Red Bull was the first, followed by Swarovski and others. When Swelly asks questions—about logos, can designs or social media—users are rewarded with Kin for answering 10 questions. Buchroithner said the reward helps garner engagement quickly, especially when brands are trying to collect between 500 and 2,000 responses.

In the case of Red Bull and other brands, each short question—they can only be 80 characters long–is accompanied by two photos that help the brand gain more insight into its audience. For example, for the ad copy “Soaring into the sunset,” Red Bull asked fans to choose between a photo of someone riding a mountain bike or a person diving off a cliff.

Red Bull and Swarovski did not respond to requests for comment.

Jeremy Epstein, CEO of Never Stop Marketing, said it’s a “no-brainer” that consumers will want a way to get paid for their time. That’s especially true, he said, if their privacy isn’t violated.

He added that the target market of teens and millennials does seem to already be taking an interest in similar token systems. For example, Epstein said his fifth-grade daughter has been using a similar app called PreSearch to gain cryptocurrency—and evangelizing it to her friends as well.

“I don’t think Google is worried about a flank assault from fifth-grade girls,” he said. “But stranger things have happened.”

Swelly isn’t the only company experimenting with Kin. TrueX, 21st Century Fox’s ad-tech division, is also using Kinit to reward users for watching 30-second ads from its network of advertisers. The company had previously rewarded Kik users with Kik Points—Kik’s rewards engine before Kin—which let users trade in points for sticker pages or other rewards.

Patrick Gales, TrueX’s vice president of business development, wouldn’t disclose which brands are testing Kin through its platform. However, he did say Kik now has everything in place to make user point generation and redemption for its roster of Fortune 500 brands such as Harley Davidson and Mondolez. That’s partially thanks to Kik’s partnership with Blackhawk Network, which works with around 700 companies to let users trade in points for gift cards and other rewards from brands such as Domino’s, Nike, Gamestop and Sephora.

“The big thing for us is that there are enough of those smaller opportunities to scale,” said Gales. “Because as many transactions we can do in a day, we want this to be accessible at any level and to maintain interest at any time in the day.”

There are still questions surrounding the future viability of the Kin ecosystem: Are the rewards appealing enough yet to get users to voluntary remember to open up apps like Kinit and Kik on a regular basis to earn Kin? Will brands and platforms give users enough Kin to let them pay for the rewards they want? If they can make the apps as sticky as gaming and social networking apps, it might become an appealing way for brands and users to interact in a way that doesn’t force people to give up their personal data—and therefore become an alternative to the likes of Google and Facebook.

“I think the larger question with the token economy is [that] it’s inevitable,” Epstein said. “How long and in what form? That’s a bit tougher to call.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.