Jimmy Fallon is pumping another NFT, but the company that makes it can’t seem to remember if it gave it to him for free or not. On April 19, the Tonight Show host, who also owns an expensive Bored Ape NFT, tweeted about Moonbirds, a buzzy new NFT collection of cartoon owls. He also changed his profile photo on Twitter to a Moonbird owl — the ultimate endorsement.
The NFT collection just launched this week and has attracted a lot of interest, with speculation that this could be the next blue-chip collection with the sort of celebrity endorsement that could make it very lucrative — for some.
Jimmy Fallon is known in the NFT community as being a collector, so “degens” (NFT obsessives) got excited when they saw his tweet saying that he owned one. If Fallon had bought in early, then it must be cool — and would probably spike in value soon.
Thing is, it doesn’t appear that Jimmy Fallon paid for those cartoon owls. The company that makes Moonbirds says that it will give away a handful of owls as free gifts to celebrities, but when asked by BuzzFeed News if this included Fallon, the cofounder said they were too busy to remember if the comedian was one of those celebrities. Two days after promising comment, representatives for Fallon had still not provided one.
“We know we’re on fire right now, in terms of hype."
Moonbirds was cofounded by Kevin Rose, a tech industry veteran who founded Digg in the Web 2.0 era and now hosts an influential crypto podcast. Coindesk called Moonbirds a “test on Kevin Rose’s rep,” and it seems to have worked — Rose said that the initial launch of Moonbirds had raised $58 million for Proof, the company behind the NFTs.
After BuzzFeed News sent an email inquiry on Wednesday, Rose replied that he would follow up with information in 30 minutes, after a meeting. He did not reply, but instead, during that time, the Moonbirds’ official Twitter sent a series of tweets explaining that the collection of 10,000 bird cartoons had reserved 125 Moonbirds to be set aside for employees, advisers, and celebrities. The tweets did not specify which celebrities had received free NFTs.
After more repeated attempts to get an answer about Fallon’s NFT from Rose and the Moonbirds team, Rose finally responded two days later that he was too busy to answer whether or not Fallon was gifted a freebie, saying over email:
“I have an insane roster of advisors across a wide range of disciplines that receive moonbirds. Some paid for their Moonbirds, some work for them, and some are gifts for various help and advice they've contributed. I'm not going to get into the financial details of each Moonbird transfer, but know that just looking at the blockchain transfer is silly; it doesn't show you the whole picture of the relationships we've established or why they are receiving them.”
The price of an NFT collection is very susceptible to hype: If other people see influential people in the NFT space buy into a collection, it makes it desirable, and the prices go up. A handful of celebrities have recently gotten into NFTs: Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, and other A-list actors, musicians, and athletes have bought into popular NFT collections like World of Women or Bored Ape Yacht Club. MoonPay, a crypto payment company, recently announced a funding round with a bunch of celebrity investors. These celebrities may enjoy the artwork or the fun of speculating and collecting, or perhaps they realize the uniquely lucrative potential: Merely attaching their own names as a buyer to an NFT will likely raise its value.
And indeed, that’s what happened with Jimmy Fallon’s Moonbird. On Wednesday morning before he tweeted, Moonbirds were selling for a range of around $55,000 to $60,000. By Friday morning, the average price had gone up to about $111,000, according to NFT trading platform OpenSea. A rare gold feathered owl sold yesterday for over $600,000.
“We know we’re on fire right now, in terms of hype,” Rose said in a Twitter Space on Thursday.
“There appears to be a growing trend among celebrities to manipulate their fan base into thinking they have purchased NFTs.”
According to a Moonbirds tweet, there are “no strings attached” to the celebrity gifts, and there’s no problem if they sell their NFT later. But even if there was no requirement that Fallon tweet about it (if indeed he received the NFTs as a gift), the NFTs became much more valuable once he did.
In January, Fallon came under scrutiny for what Vice called a “hallucinogenic” interview segment with Paris Hilton where they both showed and discussed pictures of their Bored Apes. Fans wondered if this constituted a conflict of interest for NBC since Fallon was essentially promoting an investment he owned. Representatives for NBC told the LA Times that this wasn’t a violation of its policies.
The Federal Trade Commission does have a set of social media guidelines for influencers: If you’re doing an ad, you have to make a clear disclaimer. The FTC includes free gifts in this policy, so if a travel blogger is given a free hotel stay or a movie star is given free designer clothes, they need to say so. If Fallon was indeed given a freebie, it would be a violation of the FTC’s rules if he didn’t disclose it. But it’s unlikely Fallon would face any fines. In the past, the FTC has not gone after individual influencers with fines or lawsuits (although it has sent mildly threatening letters to celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Naomi Campbell) but instead taken action against the companies that placed the ads. A recent Wired article points out that undisclosed ads for NFTs run the risk of potentially offending the SEC as well as the FTC.
“There appears to be a growing trend among celebrities to manipulate their fan base into thinking they have purchased NFTs,” Bonnie Patten, the executive director of consumer advocacy group Truth In Advertising, told BuzzFeed News. “When the reality is that these influencers are deceptively withholding the fact that they have received the cryptoassets for free or as gifts in exchange for promoting the NFTs and the companies behind them. Withholding such material information is illegal, and both the company and the influencer are on the hook for such deception.”
Crypto evangelists point to how NFTs have transparency baked in because of the blockchain. But when the companies making NFTs won’t reveal to fans (or the press when asked directly) about whether or not they are gifting to celebrities, that isn’t transparent at all. It matters to fans and potential buyers whether or not Jimmy Fallon actually paid for his own NFT — they have a right to know if the hype is real or manufactured.