Vaporwave Memes and Cherry Blossoms Trees: What AriZona Means To Me

A personal introspection of modern culture, staying true to your values, and finding hope in a sea of dopamine-fueled negativity.

DeFi Dave
DeFi Dave
March 30, 2023
Vaporwave Memes and Cherry Blossoms Trees: What AriZona Means To Me

Branding is a funny thing; they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but we make some of our sharpest judgments from the shortest of impressions. In today’s attention-driven society, every second counts more than ever, which leads to us to ask: how can we make the most of it? And most important of all, how can we make it last?

If there is one brand that has done that flawlessly over the past 30 years, it’s AriZona Ice Tea. What started as brightly-colored patterns on 23 oz. tall boys in the bodegas of NYC with a name meant to invoke thirst and healthy living has turned into a $4 billion brand that is 100% owned by the Vultaggio family.

AriZona’s staying power is no accident. This was evident a few weeks ago when Don Vultaggio, the brand’s Brooklyn-born and raised founder, posed a simple question that was flooded by his followers on Twitter:

Although there were a myriad of replies, what obviously stood out (to me) was legions of people finding the tweet and tagging me under it. Over the past few years, the iconic cherry blossoms that grace their green tea cans have been adopted to my own personal style. The association has been so deep it’s to the point where I am immediately recognized whenever I wear my signature “green tee” whenever I’m at a conference. Many people have asked me “wen sponsorship” or simply “why?” Well, my love for AriZona is simple, I just vibe with it and what it represents. And what is that exactly? Let me explain…

AriZona and I by happenstance share the distinction of being born in the 90s and we’ve witnessed a world rapidly evolve into the information age mass-connectivity era that could have only been dreamed about in sci-fi novels. Growing up on Blockbuster rentals and Spongebob reruns, we were the last generation to have a genuine mass media consciousness before social media brought about the almighty algorithm to divide our shared realities, curate our social media feeds, and conquer our defenseless attention spans via hyper-personal tailored content. Yet in an era of intrusive ad campaigns, AriZona stands out by spending ZERO on advertising, only relying on word of mouth and reputation. The boldness of 99¢ plastered on their cans' aluminum exterior stuck out amongst the rest, it’s no surprise it took not even a decade for AriZona to reach the top of the ice tea game.

Personally, my first true memories that formed around it had to be when I was a teenager. Arnold Palmer was the official non-alcoholic mascot of my high school and whether it was the perfect midday quench with a taylor ham, egg, and cheese or a late night at QuickChek, you could always rely on taking a sip of AriZona and sink back into the present moment.

That was barely the start of the 2010s, when I graduated from high school and there was some illusion of an “American Dream.” Yet, as the decade unfolded that dream of building wealth for many started to slip away. An era of easy money policies was supposed to trickle down to all but in reality, inequality is at an all time high while job security is at an all time low. For Millennials and Gen Z, there are less opportunities for advancement and more opportunities to be chained to debt. The consequences of this is an American society largely perceived to be in decline.

It’s no wonder why nostalgia culture has made a comeback in such a big way. Like a time capsule being opened from deep in our memories, images of Windows 95, textures of VHS Tapes, and the sounds of Playstations loading conjures up feelings of a world that once was. Yet, seeming to be the canary from a coal mine that has survived from a bygone era, AriZona has remained unchanged in how they present themselves and act in the present world today. With this tinkling of hope in mind, what could we learn from them, and more importantly, could such lessons bear the seeds for our collective revival?

Looking back on how AriZona came to define me happened quite naturally. Towards the late 2010s, I became immersed in vaporwave working late nights at my first startup. Having Ryan Celsius Trappin in Japan mixes playing on one screen while I was grinding on the other, researching, sipping AriZona, and eating Ralph’s Sushi; such cherished memories will forever be a part of my story. It was during this time that my style started to shift towards vaporwave drops from PUBLICSPACE and Vapor95.

A standard Trappin in Japan YouTube thumbnail featuring

Was it an expression of individuality and coming into my own from moving to the west coast? Perhaps. But for the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my own skin and this was the fashion to match. Cherry blossoms were just one of the tees I bought, but out of everything I bought there was always something special about it. My intuition has a way of pulling me to things and it feels like the decisions make themselves while the path lays itself out in front of me before I take a step. That’s how it felt wearing those cherry blossoms.

Fast-forward to the early 2020s and I find myself carving a niche within stablecoins. As a self-professed stablecoin maximalist and Day Zero Fraximalist, I became quite familiar with this little corner of DeFi that would, for better or for worse, take the industry by storm. Many stablecoins came and went but if one thing is certain, it’s that stablecoins were one of crypto’s most promising use cases for mass adoption.

Maybe by pure serendipity, the memetic parallels between AriZona and stablecoins are extremely apparent with even AriZona themselves joking about the idea. But it makes sense though. In practice, stablecoins are aiming to project the same frequency to the world that AriZona has been for decades; being trusted, safe, and reliable.

Even through the hardest of times, AriZona tall boys have remained 99 cents via a variety of creative solutions. Whether it’s making deliveries in the wee hours of the night or buying aluminum futures to hedge price action, Don’s devotion remains unparalleled. In his own words:

“I’m committed to that 99-cent price — when things go against you, you tighten your belt… Consumers don’t need another price increase from a guy like me.”

Personally, I am proud to have contributed to Frax over the years and today provide extensive coverage of the protocol on Flywheel DeFi. In my opinion, Frax is the stablecoin closest to the AriZona ethos.

Although quenching ‘thirst’ in a completely different way, Frax is first and foremost in the liquidity business, providing a much needed service to stablecoins and volatile tokens alike. A positive-sum mentality of an ecosystem growing symbiotically has always been at the core of Frax’s principles. Frax co-founder Sam Kazemian has stated for every dollar a protocol puts into pairing to Frax, he wants them to get more than a dollar of value back. This value is tangibly seen with FRAXBP on Curve, where those who pair with it are eligible for emissions that are passed on from Frax (if you don’t know what any of this means that’s okay, we are here to help you).

Finding Beauty in Impermanence

Yes, that is my cherry blossom tat.

Because the blooming of cherry blossoms only lasts a few weeks, they have come to symbolize the impermanence that is ever-present in life. Whether it is at the macro-scale of economic cycles or micro-scale of individual life spans, nothing lasts forever. In the grand scheme of it all, the one thing that we can control is how we act in the world.

I believe that we all have our place in the world. Some are meant to be builders while others are traders. Some are artists while others are developers. One of the hardest things people are faced with today is comparing themselves to others. The attention-industrial complex feeds upon insecurity, but it’s up to us to be aware of it. Not only that, it is possible to adapt while remaining true to ourselves; AriZona is a prime example of that.

So what are the seeds to the great American revival? Less hacking engagement and more genuine engagement. Long-term alignment instead of short-term greed. Building with each other instead of extracting from each other. Less fixation on what we lack and more embrace of what we can contribute to the world.

The seeds come in the form of priorities and values, growing according to the energy we pour into them. Whether you are working on an ice tea brand, a stablecoin, or something else entirely, just remember that at the end of the day, our actions are what come to define us.

Cherry blossoms serendipitously bloom at the same time as the spring equinox, a time for new beginnings. Maybe that’s what the cherry blossoms on AriZona cans mean to me, a clean slate and hope for the future. Call me crazy but I believe for us who are open to receiving the opportunity, the brightest days are ahead of us after all.

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