Matt Damon’s Crypto.com TV ad compares crypto investors to early explorers, mountain climbers, the Wright brothers, astronauts, and a guy about to make out with a girl in the club. It’s been airing since October, but only this week did a mass audience take notice.
And the reaction has been brutal.
At the Financial Times, crypto critic Jemima Kelly called the ad “grotesque.” The Daily Beast declared it an “embarrassing cash grab.” The Guardian columnist Carole Cadwalladr tweeted to her 600,000 followers: “There isn’t enough yuck in the world to describe Matt Damon advertising a Ponzi scheme.”
Matt Damon is hardly the first celebrity to do a paid crypto promotion. FTX has been running ads with Tom Brady for months. Copper, which does institutional crypto custody, unveiled a new ad in November featuring the actor Rebecca Ferguson (most recently Jessica in “Dune”) pulling a cube out of a waterfall and calling Copper “the unfair advantage.” Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian have all done paid crypto endorsements. All of them avoided this level of vitriol.
To be fair, the ad is embarrassing. The worst part is its banal concluding catchphrase: “Fortune favors the brave.” And the Damon ad is the second recent in-your-face marketing move from Crypto.com—the company forked out $700 million to slap its name on the Staples Center in L.A.
But the people trashing the Damon ad the loudest already hated crypto. The ad confirms for them the beliefs they already hold: it’s a scam, it’s a fraud. Benjamin McKenzie, from “The OC” and “Gotham,” has become their pied piper, making it his mission, in CNN appearances, to slam fellow celebrities who pump crypto.
Not to state the obvious, but gambling on unlicensed, unregistered securities through an app on your phone isn’t bravery. It’s gambling.
— Ben McKenzie (@ben_mckenzie) January 3, 2022
Even accepting Bitcoin donations is enough to enrage them. When Mozilla, the company behind internet browser Firefox, tweeted a simple reminder on December 31 that it accepts crypto donations (it has since 2014) the backlash was so ferocious—including from a Mozilla co-founder—that it paused Bitcoin donations.
If it’s not the marketing that pisses them off, it’s companies launching NFTs. In the past month, GSC Game World canceled plans to integrate NFTs into its game “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl” after backlash, and Discord backed away from a MetaMask Ethereum wallet integration after its core users, mostly gamers, revolted.
Bitcoin’s abysmal start to the year has also set off a predictable chorus of victory lap headlines and tweets about how crypto is too volatile, it’s all a scam, and so on.
Bitcoin hit its 13th anniversary this month. After 13 years of trading, why do the same skeptics hate it with as much passion, if not more, than the early days? They’ve heard crypto is killing the environment, or it’s a Ponzi scheme to prey on gullible investors. Others are simply turned off by what they think embodies crypto culture: HODL bros in Miami and drooling Bored Ape owners who don’t know what real art is.
At Decrypt, we disagree. We don’t dispense investment advice, and most of our writers own very little crypto. But I like to say that at the very least, we believe the technology is fascinating. I find that most of the people who dismiss crypto out of hand just don’t understand it—and don’t want to learn.
So, what might change their minds? Price growth isn’t doing it: Bitcoin rose from a fraction of a penny to nearly $70,000 and people still roll their eyes. Widespread adoption by banks, hedge funds, and consumer brands isn’t converting hearts and minds.
The arrival of Ethereum 2.0, which will move to a proof-of-stake mechanism that should use far less energy, might help address the environmental complaints. The continued rise of NFTs with actual use cases—in games, as membership passes, as proof of attendance—might convert some doubters.
But it will probably take real-world everyday uses, beyond just price speculation, to force some people to acknowledge crypto is real. Perhaps it will be an innovation from the “Web3” boom in decentralized media, DAOs, or digital workplace tools that will impress normies.
As for the companies facing immediate backlash when they announce crypto or NFT plans, Decrypt’s Jason Nelson has a suggestion for them (watch the roundtable above): “Stop telling everybody what you’re doing.” Put your heads down and launch the thing, without the drumroll, and let your users decide if they like it.
This is Roberts on Crypto, a weekend column from Decrypt Editor-in-Chief Daniel Roberts and Decrypt Executive Editor Jeff John Roberts. Sign up for the Decrypt email newsletter to receive it in your inbox. And read last weekend’s column: Will Brands Ruin the Metaverse?