How Christie’s Is Pitching Its Expansion From Picassos to NFTs

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Christie’s Head of Marketing for America Neda Whitney talks about mystifying non-fungible tokens, appearing in the metaverse, and reaching a young bidder with a new definition of luxury.

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The company said the auction house’s customers are underage, accounting for nearly a quarter of millennial bidders this year, up from 20% in 2019.

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More bidding went on the web during COVID-19, while sales of new products like NFTs are redefining the art industry and the way people think about luxury. So Christie’s, with presence in London, New York and other cities around the world, wants to update the way people see the brand.

The job comes to the company’s senior vice president and head of marketing for Americas, Neda Whitney, who joined in January after a career in advertising and digital marketing agencies.

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Ms. Whitney spoke to Businesshala about Christie’s emerging marketing strategy. The interview has been condensed and edited.

BusinesshalaQ: What was the company’s marketing objective when you joined in January?

Neda Whitney: My personal goal is to bring Christie’s story into the hearts and minds of customers of all types. For a lot of people, they think of it as an auction house where we sell $100 million Picasso paintings, but there are actually many different types of art and objects that we sell at different price points.

The new types of customers were less aware that we are not limited to those categories. We sell things like NFTs. Luxury Can Be Streetwear—Supreme [the clothing brand] Sales, sales of sneaker- and wine, watches, decorative arts and jewelry.

Businesshala: What do your audience think about luxury today?

Ms. WhitneyThe definition of luxury is very different than it used to be. Sometimes I call it the Kardashian effect. People used to save money for rainy days, special occasions and gift moments. Now if I have $700 to buy Gucci loafers, I’m going to spend it on Gucci loafers.

People are choosing different paths depending on how they go about life and get into money—which decided not to go to college and started investing in art and crypto. They are rich, they are small. We’re seeing this happen with Silicon Valley and other places. They want to participate in the same type of art and culture.

Thirty-four percent of our buyers are new buyers. Seventy-two percent of NFT bidders and buyers are new to Christie’s this year.

BusinesshalaWhat are you doing to change the way people see Christie’s?

Ms. Whitney: The biggest change so far has happened in our interactions with our NFT community. We want to be a thought leader in the space. We are active on Twitter. We have people with Discord accounts. I’m going to talk about NFTs at lunch. We have an Art + Tech summit. We’re all there to help enigmatic the world of NFTs.

We are exploring platforms like TikTok, which we have not traditionally been into.

We had the trending hashtags for sale in Asia-#suitson4christies, people own Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT [a collection of 10,000 NFTs by the artist organization Yuga Labs] in suit. I think this was our first trending hashtag ever.

I was like, “Guys, I’ve done a million of these. Let’s chime in. When we announce the sale of Beeple, let’s take over social media.” [Christie’s auctioned a Beeple video sculpture and NFT earlier this month for $28.9 million.]

It’s not something we’ve done historically.

Businesshala: Many brands are thinking about how they will appear in virtual communities often referred to as the metaverse. Will Christie give it a shot?

Ms. Whitney: We’ve talked to a number of different vendors and the metaverse. It would be great for us to have the opportunity for customers to display in the Metaverse in a branded way or partner with Decentraland. [a virtual gaming platform and community] Or one of the others to make it more turnkey.

And do we want to have gallery space in the metaverse? Cities are emerging. We’ve thought about it, but haven’t decided anything yet.

BusinesshalaQ: How are you measuring success?

Ms. Whitney: We have some key performance indicators. One is the new customer. We have a very detailed system to track customer registration and who comes from where and who is bidding. It will be a measure of return on investment; This is a very straightforward solution.

Another measure of success is brand affinity, and we are doing a brand-affinity study. There is an agency we are working with to measure the aura and affinity of the brand. Next month we’re getting started with them, just to set some benchmarks to better understand how our brand is being viewed and performed. It’s all part of getting more data.

Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]

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