NFT Avatars: The New Status Symbols

Are Punks and Apes like Rolexes and Lamborghinis for the digital-native?


Christian Jensen

2 years ago | 5 min read

On my mission to educate the world about NFTs and all their current and future use cases, I always emphasize a few key points:

  1. NFTs are just a technology. It’s a digital proof of ownership that can be used for a ton of different things beyond art and avatars.
  2. Lots of NFTs have real utility and serve as access keys to premium content, in-game characters, software subscriptions, tickets, virtual land, and more.
  3. However! Some NFTs are definitely being created and bought without “utility” in mind.

Case in point, I personally find it extremely hard to make the “utility case” for a $500,000 CryptoPunk or even a $200,000 Bored Ape despite their exciting roadmap.

Furthermore, I think that’s completely fine and would personally love to own a Punk or an Ape! Not everything in this world is about utility and people buy lots of things for non-utilitarian reasons.

Now, there’s certainly a case to be made for Punks, Apes, and other high-value NFTs as investments in IP. They may very well turn into much bigger brands in the future and utilize that for all kinds of media, merchandise, toys, and other product lineups.

Many people see them as important cultural artifacts and collectibles that will keep appreciating in value because of their scarcity, not unlike trading cards and vintage toys in the analog world. I agree with all these perspectives.

And yet, I still think that many buyers care less about that and more about what can seem like the least utilitarian of all product benefits: Social status.

The pursuit of status

Now, I’m no psychologist, anthropologist, or really anything of the sort, so my commentary is based on online research and observations of my own and other people’s behavior. Luckily the latter is pretty obvious in this context.

There’s no denying that wealth is a popular measure of success and status. Rich people are often admired because of the importance of money in our capitalist society where we all play the role of “consumers”. Combine this with our fundamental desire to be recognized and admired by our peers and you see why displaying our wealth is arguably just as important as having it.

To be fair, some people don’t seem to care about money at all. But even if you’re one of these people, I’m sure you recognize the following in others:

  • We pay a premium for luxury clothes, shoes, and accessories from brands like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton, not (only) because of their extraordinary quality, comfort, or even their design, but because of the very public display of wealth that comes along with these logos.
  • We drive around in expensive cars we can’t afford for the same reasons outlined above.
  • We go to fancy bars and restaurants to be seen by and feel like the VIPs.
  • Most importantly though, we make sure to share all the above on social media! If you didn’t post a handful of photos from that yacht party, were you really even there?

I’m not here to pass judgment or argue whether this behavior is good or bad. I’m simply observing that it happens and using it as an analogy to what’s now going on in the digital world. And with our lives becoming increasingly digital, it makes sense to make some comparisons.

People are working from home rather than going to an office. People are socializing on Twitter, WhatsApp, and Discord rather than at a café. People are playing online games rather than board games.

If you’re spending most of your time online, do you really need an expensive car or a huge mansion? Moreover, do you really want to flex in the same way as your parents — or do you want a cooler digital-native alternative?

This is where NFTs enter the stage.

The profile picture trend

If you aren’t spending all day on NFT Twitter, you may not have noticed the trend of people using their NFT avatars as their profile pictures. I’m not saying everyone is doing it but, you know, everyone is doing it.

The same is happening on Discord, Instagram, OpenSea, and essentially anywhere else you have a profile picture. Some people have essentially taken on their avatar’s identity as their own and become known by its name.

Two of the people known by the identity of their CryptoPunks (#2476 and #4156)

We do this for a few different reasons. One big one is to become part of the community. Another is to show off the cool-looking avatar we just bought.

However, if you have one of the more expensive avatars, there’s no denying that it’s about more than that though. Because your fellow NFT aficionados know the price tag of a Punk, a Bored Ape, a Cool Cat, or a CyberKong, having one of these as your profile picture is essentially the digital equivalent of a Rolex or a Lamborghini.

Of course, many people won’t know that your cartoon monkey face costs more than their cars. But enough people will. And the people who matter the most if you’re a true NFT nerd will know. Furthermore, if you’re somewhat active on Twitter, your $100k profile picture is likely to get just as many eyeballs on it as your Lambo would.

A few of the people with CryptoPunks and Bored Ape profile pictures on Twitter

I wanna be clear here: I know plenty of people with expensive NFT profile pictures who don’t do it to show they’re rich. They may just love the NFT space or perhaps they minted their Punk or Ape back when it was free or cost a few hundred dollars (which to me is even cooler than buying it now).

Not everyone with an expensive NFT profile pic wants to show off — but there’s definitely a lot who do.

What’s next?

I probably end most of my articles with some version of “It’s still super early days for NFTs!”. This article won’t be any different. Because it is indeed still early days for NFTs! The avatar trend may just be one of the first use cases to catch on, but I feel quite certain that it’s here to stay.

Which avatars are hot and most valuable will change over time. Maybe CryptoPunks will stop being cool. Maybe there will even be a countertrend toward cheap and obscure avatars just like the normcore trend in the fashion world. But using your online avatar as social signaling, as a statement about yourself, your status, and your values — that I don’t see going away.

Furthermore, people will be using their online avatars in 3D versions when the metaverse and immersive virtual experiences mature. This will also enable more and different status symbols. I’m curious to see if expensive sneakers, handbags, jewelry, and sunglasses will become just as important in the metaverse as they are in real life.

What do you think of this trend? And where do you see it going when we’re all living in VR? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Originally published at on November 4, 2021.


Created by

Christian Jensen

UX Designer, investor, and NFT nerd, writing about innovation, investing, product design, and culture ✍️







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