We've reached ‘Applebee's NFT burger’ levels of dystopia

Purchasing the digital image affords the buyer a year's worth of real burgers, too.

Have you ever wanted to buy a burger you can’t eat? Then, boy, we have good news for you. Applebee’s just dropped its first NFT and — you guessed it — it’s a nonphysical burger. A many-colored, abstract-looking one.

There is some bad news along with the good: The burger NFT has already been sold. The lucky buyer purchased it for just $25 — a steal, by NFT standards. If you, like me, are sitting there staring at that photo and wondering why anyone would pay $25 for it, this detail might prove illuminatory: The first person to buy the NFT also received a gift card for a year’s worth of free Applebee’s burgers.

NFTs, once an esoteric internet market reserved for those in the know, became a full-blown phenomenon this year. It’s proven productive and profitable for the digital art scene. Which, of course, means every last brand wants in on the action. Not even food is sacred anymore, it seems.

Yum? — The buyer of the NFT either really wanted to own the digital burger or hopes to go eat a free burger at Applebee’s every few days for the duration of 2022. The image was listed on the Voice marketplace at 2:53 p.m. ET, and by 2:59 p.m. it had been snatched up by user @zenrasta.

Actually, Applebee’s didn’t even officially announce the NFT until just after 3 p.m. A few Twitter users wondered in the comments whether or not the early buy had been an inside job of some sort. Amber Vittoria, the artist behind the psychedelic burger, shut that accusation down, explaining that the buyer must’ve heard her speaking on a Twitter Spaces chat about it and made a run for it.

Worse for the environment than beef? — The merits of the NFT marketplace are highly contested, at the moment. Besides the it’s all a scam angle (and some of them certainly are), the biggest debate about NFTs is whether or not they’re unreasonably harmful to the environment.

The difficulty in settling on an answer to this debate is that we just don’t have enough data to make an informed conclusion. The beef market, on the other hand, is absolutely detrimental to climate preservation efforts. The environmental impact of minting and selling that digital burger could be even worse than eating a beef one. We just don’t know for sure yet.

Unlike some NFT projects, Applebee’s is only planning to dole out a few more of these digital food items. (What they’ll be, exactly, has yet to be announced.) This isn’t really an art project, though — it’s just a marketing campaign that capitalizes on the current NFT hype. That move is getting old fast, whether or not it’s bad for the planet.