The PR battle between the mainstream (financial) press and the crypto warriors has been ongoing ever since crypto became big enough to touch society in some way or form. Bitcoin has been pronounced dead many times and any use of crypto in illegal activities has been thoroughly fleshed out in the news, tv shows and movies. This PR battle took on a whole new dimension as the market capitalisation of all cryptocurrencies rose above the $1 trillion mark in early January 2021.
A year on from the $1 trillion threshold being crossed crypto marketeers have fully entered the traditional marketing domain. Above the line, outdoor and the use of other traditional marketing methods are now increasingly common, whereas previously these firms fully relied on the use of digital marketing. Larger names in DeFi (Decentralised Finance) have turned to traditional marketing campaigns in search for mainstream adoption of their offerings. Which in turn has led more and more people to flock to one or the other crypto. Another driver are the visibility of so called ‘crypto millionaires’, usually early adopters who tell stories of paying a few bitcoin for a pizza back in 2011 (imagine paying 4 bitcoin, currently worth £125,000) others have even entered billionaire territory.
Where some might have gotten filthy rich, or ‘rich enough’, by doing little more than holding onto the same coins for long enough. Others have actively participated in the creation of the decentralised financial ecosystem, often driven by a mission to bring about a more democratised financial system. Yet the mix of ‘shitcoins’, PR battles and celebrity endorsements gone wrong has meant the rise in traditional marketing hasn’t gone unnoticed. With calls for (marketing) regulators to intervene now increasing, such as the recent call to ban crypto advertising on the London tube.
The most notable example of DeFi players which have turned to traditional marketing methods is Crypto.com (a domain name bought of a US based professor and at inception known as Monaco). They have launched a campaign in 20 countries, including an ad starring Matt Damon. The campaign titled ‘Fortune favours the brave’, also includes outdoor and print (see left in The Economist, and below large outdoor displays in Hamburg, Germany). Besides this they have made sponsorship deals with Formula 1, the Italian Series A, Paris Saint Germain, US Football as well as a deal worth $700 billion to rename the Staples Centre to the Crypto.com Arena.
Others like Coinflip (US) also turned to well known actors, with their ad featuring Neil Patrick Harris (How I met your mother). And, as with the flock of DeFi firms advertising on the London tube, this has meant more and more people know and consider crypto. A recent Ipsos survey in the Netherlands showed that 1.2 million (roughly 7% of the total population) people have ‘invested’ in crypto, with half not waging more than €500. While others denounce, ridicule or even complain about said campaigns, often helped by clickbait headlines.
From confused to a new dawn in the internet
All that being said, and while cryptocurrencies can have major benefits as actual currencies in countries where financial systems might be more shaky, many people are confused as to what the societal use cases might be.
- ‘Is bitcoin a store of value or a currency used as any fiat currency would be used today’,
- ‘will all 4,500 cryptocurrencies currently in circulation have any use at all’ and
- ‘what will central bank digital currencies mean for societies, and for citizens privacy’
These are just some of the questions that circulate in the public debate surrounding cryptocurrencies (even before someone enters with ‘it is about blockchain technology’). As the debate intensifies (marketing) regulators are trying to figure out how to deal with the surge in DeFi firms turning to traditional marketing channels. Perhaps the PR battle and many people’s confusion will not be helped by the introduction of another term onto the main stage; web3. Some have already used it as a replacement term for ‘crypto’, which in itself was a term used quite broadly beyond cryptocurrencies.
Web 3.0 (a decentralised or blockchain based internet) could end up changing the way we use the internet completely, although it currently has limitations, similar to cryptocurrencies and indeed the PC when it was first introduced. As I don’t want to take you down a web3 rabbit hole, one of the most straightforward quotes I’ve read on the topic comes from a well read weekly Fintech newsletter:
In Web 2, your data is held by the corporation, and they let you access it. In Web 3, your data is stored in many places, and you control how to access it. This is such a massive mental model shift that some struggle to make the leap. This picture has been floating around the internet, and I think it describes it quite well. — Simon Taylor in Fintech Brain Food
So while a lot of this continues to be confusing for many, the fact some of the larger names in Crypto (and Web3) have turned to traditional marketing methods lays bare a simple truth, some things just work. Things like spending ridiculous amounts of money to get your name seen by millions; the crypto.com coin or CRO went from £0.15 to over £0.70 after the campaign was first launched.
Especially when you don’t have millions of followers on TikTok, or Twitter meme dominance, to make anything go viral.
Looking forward to comments, feedback and a lively discussion. The broader topic of web3 and crypto has many branches to dive onto and this is by no means an ell-encompassing post on all that is going on in terms of marketing, more to follow 🧠😄