Happy Super Bowl weekend! Remember last year’s game? More importantly, remember all the cryptocurrency ads? I bet you do, and I bet you’re wondering whether you’ll be deluged with them again. Worry not: A Fox Sports executive has said crypto will have “zero representation” during Sunday’s show, with the exceptions of a blockchain-based gaming firm’s ad and an ongoing, but already retro-feeling, partnership between the Super Bowl and Reddit involving NFT avatars—which, to judge from social media interactions, is going about as well as you might expect:
Who here has received their #SBLVII Collectible Avatar? Let’s see our starting lineup below. 🏈👇
— Reddit (@Reddit) February 8, 2023
Last year’s game coincided with the peak for the crypto industry, fueled by lockdown-inspired interest in alternative currencies as well as mass hype around nonfungible tokens. Riding that wave into 2022, a bunch of crypto exchanges spent big for that year’s Super Bowl, and the results were pretty weird: an animated QR code offering $15 in Bitcoin from Coinbase, some cross-generational guidance from Crypto.com, and, of course, the now-infamous FTX spots. Those three exchanges, along with the Israeli investment firm eToro, spent a collective total of $54 million on such commercials. (Incidentally, Fox Sports’ parent company, Fox Corporation, was also revealed to be an FTX corporate creditor during the latter’s bankruptcy proceedings.)
Looking back at that digital gold rush a year later, with the cryptoverse shaken by a series of scandals and bankruptcies and much, much lower coin valuations, one can’t help but wonder just what was the ultimate result of those celebrity-endorsed virtual-currency ads. After all, if you took inspiration from Tom Brady or Larry David and invested in the space—whether in the form of Ethereum token purchases, crypto-company stocks, or a high-yield cash stash in an exchange—you have likely fallen underwater on your investment or lost it entirely, and there may be little relief available, despite a small rally in Bitcoin’s price. The new year hasn’t given this sector much relief, and crypto funds aren’t going to rebound in time for another Super Bowl commercial splurge. Not that they’re wanted: The Associated Press reported Sunday that multiple crypto-ad deals had been on the table for this year’s Super Bowl, until FTX went under and demolished everything.
As we look ahead to this year’s matchup, let’s pause and remember the crypto ads that came before, the celebrities they featured, and just how much money you lost if one of crypto’s greater fools was you. Special thanks to CoinDesk for its nifty price charts.
Feb. 13, 2022. Crypto.com
Summary: On Jan. 28, LeBron James announced a multiyear partnership with Crypto.com, with the exchange saying it would support the NBA star’s charitable foundation by providing “educational and workforce development opportunities focused on Web3.” By Feb. 13, Crypto.com was ready for its Super Bowl ad debut, featuring LeBron talking to his 18-year-old self in 2003 about all the technological wonders the future will bring: AirPods! Music streaming on your phone! Electric cars! Crypto, specifically, does not come up until the very end, when you see the Crypto.com logo. All as “The Next Episode” plays in the background.
Slogan: “We going to the league! We going to the league!”
Market impact: It’s likely that James’ commercial inspired some users to sign up as users at Crypto.com. Indeed, the NBA was a particular focus for crypto last year, as it spent more than $130 million in sponsorships for the league, per CNN. But according to the crypto-analyst firm CoinGecko, Crypto.com’s trading volume saw only a small bump following the ad.
How boned are you? Let’s say you signed up for Crypto.com right after James’ ad and procured yourself one (1) Bitcoin. That coin, then worth $42,067.76, is now worth $21,749.96—a 48 percent plunge in value.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: 1 token of ETH was worth $2,782.80 on game day. Now, it’s worth $1,522.23—a 45 percent fall.
• Dogecoin: 1 DOGE was worth about, well, 15 cents on game day. Now it’s only 8 cents, if trading in pennies like that is your thing.
• Solana: 1 SOL was worth $92.86 on game day. Now? A measly $20.48, entailing a 78 percent fall.
Feb. 13, 2022. FTX
Summary: The Seinfeld co-creator admitted he didn’t quite understand crypto before filming a Super Bowl commercial for the exchange FTX. Neither did the commercial’s director, Jeff Schaffer, a longtime Larry David collaborator. (Schaffer told the New York Times that he “was not paid in virtual currency” for his work.) Anyway, the ad shows Larry David, in various costumes, being skeptical of important inventions throughout history: the wheel, the lightbulb, American democracy, and more. Today, David is skeptical of crypto. Hmm!
Slogan: “I’m never wrong about this stuff.”
Market impact: According to Protocol, FTX’s app jumped up the App Store’s download rankings right after the Super Bowl, and eventually surpassed Coinbase in Bitcoin trading volume three months later. Obviously, that rally didn’t last long. (Oh, and Larry David is getting sued for that ad, along with FTX’s other celebrity ambassadors.)
How boned are you? Again, your fresh Bitcoin holdings would have dipped by 48 percent in the year since, with other currencies falling by the same amounts previously noted. Should’ve listened to Larry.
Both those commercials debuted on Super Bowl night itself, but the advertisement offerings weren’t limited to brand-new crypto endorsees. Chances are you also caught the reappearance of now-widely-mocked spots by Matt Damon, Tom Brady, and his now-ex-wife Gisele Bündchen:
Oct. 28, 2021. Crypto.com
Summary: The digital currency exchange Crypto.com poured $100 million into its first global campaign in October, airing TV and digital commercials featuring Matt Damon as part of a “long-term collaboration.” The veteran actor became an investor in the company around then; in turn, Crypto.com gave $1 million to Damon’s clean-water nonprofit and encouraged customers to make charitable donations in cryptocurrencies.
Slogan: The centerpiece is meant to be “Fortune Favors the Brave,” but I find the first line of the ad to be much more instructive: “History is filled with ‘almosts,’ with those who almost adventured, who almost achieved, but ultimately, for them it proved to be too much.” I can think of some modern-day parallels there.
Market impact: By May 2022, as Stephen Witt reported, Crypto.com’s user base had grown to 50 million users—five times the number of users it had when the Damon ad first dropped. The commercial was perhaps too effective, to the point that, when the crypto market crashed in May and spurred Crypto.com into making significant layoffs, online commentators blamed Damon for encouraging people to invest in a bad market. Probably not what Damon or Crypto.com wanted from this partnership. These days, the exchange is shedding even more of its workers and changing its Canadian business model thanks to regulatory scrutiny.
As for the money: Let’s assume the $1 million Crypto.com paid to Damon’s nonprofit in October was all in Bitcoin. If that donation hadn’t been converted to fiat, it would now be worth $358,953.12. Not good for the water.
How boned are you? Bitcoin’s price has dropped by 64 percent since that fortuitous fall. Hope you sold it off before that.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: 1 ETH, worth $4,288.81 the day Damon’s ad accosted the public, has slid by 65 percent.
• Dogecoin: 1 DOGE was worth about a literal quarter back then. Now, you couldn’t even trade it in for a dime.
• Solana: SOL was experiencing an upswing around this time, climbing up to $194.80 by the time Damon came around. Now, it has cratered by about 89 percent(!).
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen
June 29, 2021. FTX
Summary: Wow, remember when these two were still together? During those halcyon days, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen took equity stakes in the crypto firm FTX and agreed to serve as ambassadors for the exchange. The then-couple went on to make multiple ads for the service, roping in other celebrities like Steph Curry. Neither disclosed their stakes in the firm at the time, although they received some amount of cryptocurrency for their trouble. Thanks to the FTX bankruptcy proceedings, we now know a lil bit more: Brady had 1.14 million common shares in the firm, valued at about $45 million total, while Bündchen carried 686,781, for $25 million. All together, about 1.8 million shares for $70 million. Wise investing(?).
Slogan: “I’m in!” (Yeah you are, buddy—in deep doo-doo, that is!)
Market impact: About a month after Brady’s announcement, FTX reached a valuation of $18 billion, and its revenues reportedly increased by 840 percent through 2021. Plus, the value of FTX’s in-house token gradually climbed following the celebrity announcement, reaching its all-time peak of $78 around the time the September commercial was released. FTX also reached one of its highest peaks in trading volume the day the commercial dropped. Seems like that one paid off—for FTX, at the time, that is. Now, as Brady and Bündchen face the same class-action lawsuit that’s come for Larry David, it’s likely their shares will totally evaporate. Assuming their holdings were in Bitcoin—Brady’s preferred currency—that bonus is now worth 38 percent less than when Brady first received it.
Bonus: In October, a fan was paid one (1) Bitcoin to return Brady’s 600th touchdown football to him. That single coin, worth $62,266.30 then, is worth 65 percent less now.
How boned are you? Going into July 2021, 1 BTC was worth even less than it was when Brady paid off that fan of his—$33,541.99. So you can take comfort in the fact your fall wasn’t as hard, at only 35 percent. Small mercies.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: 1 ETH could be redeemed for about $2,000 at a time when Brady and Bündchen were happily together and shilling for FTX. But that coin is worth 24 percent less now.
• Dogecoin: Still worth about an actual copper quarter at that point. Still worth much less than that by now.
• Solana: SOL, something of an upstart currency in 2021, was only worth about $34 at that point. Still, the travails of the subsequent years shaved that value by 40 percent.
Perhaps surprisingly, the above four ads made up the entire spate of Super Bowl crypto promotions. That doesn’t mean there weren’t instructive examples of celebrity-endorsed crypto shilling before that point, including:
The D’Amelio Family
May 5, 2021. Gemini
Summary: For TikTok celebrity Charli D’Amelio’s 17th birthday, her family partnered with Gemini—the crypto exchange founded by the Winkelvoss twins—to gift Charli an undisclosed amount of Bitcoin.
Slogan: “We are learning more about cryptocurrency as a family, thank you @gemini for Charli’s birthday gift. #GeminiPartner.”
Impact: Difficult to ascertain. That month saw a major crypto crash that wiped out about $1 trillion from the overall market, thanks in large part to China’s announcement of a ban on Bitcoin mining. So both Bitcoin and Gemini’s in-house token lost out. Still, Gemini overall seemed to have a good year from that moment onward, stating on May 11 that it was holding more than $30 billion worth of cryptocurrency. Just months later, Forbes wrote that “Gemini is growing fast and aggressively hiring.” So maybe this celebrity partnership helped get Gemini some good PR and business, at least until the Securities and Exchange Commission recently came a-knockin’.
How boned are you? Since Charli’s dad had previously tweeted that she wanted “a Bitcoin” for her present, let’s say for this exercise that she (and you) received 1 BTC at that moment. On May 6, 2021, the value of one Bitcoin was $56,430.21. That coin has shed 61 percent of its value.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: ETH was surging upward when Charli logged on, trading at about $3,450. It’s down now by about 56 percent.
• Dogecoin: May 2021 was a flush time for DOGE at about 55 cents. Two whole quarters and a nickel!
• Solana: Still low, at about $45. That’s been cut by 55 percent.
July 14, 2021. Coin Cloud
Summary: Spike Lee’s second-most-controversial project in 2021 was an ad he directed and starred in for Coin Cloud, a currency service that provides ATMs through which users can purchase Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Tether, and other digital coins. The message: The old money system is discriminatory against Americans who are not white men, but the “digital rebellion” in cryptocurrency will lead to liberation for all. (About that … )
Crypto newcomers can obtain up to $500 worth of Bitcoin from Coin Cloud’s ATMs just by providing their phone number, so let’s assume that’s the amount Lee got from doing the commercial. The value of a Bitcoin today is about 32 percent lower than when Lee did this ad, reducing the value of his ATM paycheck to $340.
Slogan: “Do Your Own Research. (The risks of trading or holding can be substantial and the value can go up or down quickly and dramatically.)”
Market impact: As New York magazine reported, Coin Cloud had no ATMs in New York City when Spike Lee filmed his ad there; the machines seen in the video are props. Per Coin Cloud’s own website, it … still has no ATMs in Lee’s home state. Oh, and the company filed for bankruptcy this week.
How boned are you? Bitcoin—which is accurately depicted in the commercial as having been valued around $33,000 at the time—kept plunging in value throughout July until it began a steady recovery near the end of the month. Overall, it’s still down by 32 percent.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: Worth about $2,400 then, down by 37 percent now.
• Dogecoin: Sadly, by June 1 DOGE couldn’t even be traded for two dimes, forget a quarter.
• Solana: $31.36 if you found a Coin Cloud ATM right after the ad aired. Hey, at least Solana’s only lower by about $10 from that point.
And what about what came after the Super Bowl? After all, just three months later, the entire crypto market experienced one of its most crippling downturns to date, throwing the industry into chaos. The valuations of Bitcoin and several popular “altcoins” plummeted, thanks in large part to ripple effects from interest rate hikes, and Coinbase just narrowly avoided bankruptcy. It didn’t get better after that: Coinbase, Crypto.com, and eToro all made steep staff cuts that summer, a trend that accelerated after FTX fully imploded in November. Crypto ad budgets were naturally curtailed as well, with industrywide spending bottoming out by July (and hitting other tech and media companies’ pocketbooks in the process). Still, up through the eve of that still-lingering crash, a few more celebrities made some, uh, pitches:
March 21, 2022. FTX
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) March 21, 2022
Summary: Hey, you can’t say crypto fans always lack self-awareness: This commercial features an advertising brain trust figuring out various possible themes for an ad featuring Naomi Osaka. Comics, the moon, and dragons all come up, yet the room settles for Osaka simply announcing her FTX partnership on TV. The ad came as part of FTX’s push to bring more women and young investors into crypto; the tennis star in turn received an undisclosed equity stake and cryptocurrency compensation (in a “long-term” contract), an FTX donation to her Play Foundation, and special FTX-branded gear for her games.
Slogan: “If @StephenCurry30 @TomBrady and @giseleofficial are in then you know I am too!”
How boned are you? Supposing Osaka (or you) had been compensated in Bitcoin, that stash would be worth about 47 percent less now, with 1 BTC costing $41,034.06 the day of her announcement.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: 1 ETH went for nearly $3,000 then, which means its value has been slashed by half.
• Dogecoin: 12 cents of value! So you didn’t lose much.
• Solana: 1 SOL was $88.74, meaning it’s lost more than 75 percent of its price.
March 29, 2022. FTX
Summary: This commercial is meant to assure hesitant FTX adopters of the accessibility of its service. You see, Steph Curry keeps denying to Shaq—who’s narrating off screen—that he has any expertise on crypto. However, FTX’s app makes it all so easy for him! What could go wrong? (Besides the hideous Bored Ape ice sculpture you see Curry carving in front of a house.) This followed a deal the Golden State superstar had signed with FTX back in September, earning himself—you guessed it—an undisclosed equity stake.
Slogan: “I’m not an expert, and I don’t need to be.”
Market impact: When famed Bitcoin maxi Michael Saylor offered crypto advice to Curry in September 2021, he claimed to have bought $3 million in BTC—which would now be worth only $1.41 million. This fact may not faze Curry too much, considering he’s long been familiar with sharp crypto plunges. But the class-action lawsuit, which includes Curry along with Brady and David and Osaka, could be a source of worry.
How boned are you? Now, if you had bought $3 million in Bitcoin when Curry told you to in March, it’d only be worth $1.52 million now. Sorry about the lost milli.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: 1 ETH was $3,402.95 then, and is now worth about 55 percent less.
• Dogecoin: 14 cents, just 6 cents more than what 1 DOGE has now.
• Solana: 1 SOL was $111.69, but it’s only worth about 18 percent of that value now.
May 6, 2022. Crypto.com
Summary: NBA star Joel Embiid walks through city streets, with his old college coach Bill Self narrating an inspirational tale of the unconventional path Embiid took to stardom, as well as the adversity he faced along the way. Obviously, a Cameroonian immigrant coming to the U.S. to pursue pro basketball is uhh right in line with … being brave by trading with Crypto.com? Interestingly, just a couple months before this, Embiid told the Athletic that he’s “not big on” crypto.
Slogan: “We keep going, until our path is the one they wish they’d taken.”
Market impact: Crypto.com saw a significant uptick in trading volume in the days following the ad. However, just a week after that came the downfall of the entire crypto market, from which the exchange’s volume has still not recovered. Oh well, gotta trust the process.
How boned are you? Ironically, this could be a relief, seeing as BTC was already ticking downward last May, sitting at about $36,000. So, uh, that’s only worth about 40 percent less nowadays.
What about other tokens?
• Ethereum: ETH was also sliding at this point, sinking down to $2,600 when Embiid took to the cameras. The currency is worth even less now, of course, by about 41 percent.
• Dogecoin: This was right when DOGE began to plummet from about 12 cents to the 8-cent average it’s maintained. Welp.
• Solana: About 75 percent higher than what it’s valued at today. Sheesh!
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