Comedian Larry David isn’t interested in great inventions throughout history—not the wheel, the fork, the toilet, American democracy, the light bulb, lunar travel, or the portable music player. And David, creator of the television series Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, is equally dismissive of cryptocurrency in a pitch meeting for the crypto exchange FTX. “Eh, I don’t think so,” he says. “And I’m never wrong about this stuff.”
As his minute-long Super Bowl ad spot comes to a close, the words “Don’t be like Larry” pop on the screen. The FTX spot was a clear appeal to people’s fear of missing out, or FOMO, and it wasn’t the only one.
Other crypto companies, including the exchange Crypto.com, and sports betting operator BetMGM spent millions of dollars to insinuate that you risked missing out on fortunes, even greatness, for failing to invest now in unregulated financial products or gamble on upcoming games.
Crypto.com, the exchange that recently paid $700 million for the naming rights to the Los Angeles Lakers’ arena, ran a 30-second commercial with basketball star LeBron James talking to an 18-year-old version of himself. “If you want to make history, you’ve got to call your own shots,” the elder James says. In response, the younger James decides to skip college and go straight to the NBA. The tagline “fortune favors the brave” appears on screen, the same one used in a recent commercial starring Matt Damon that likened buying crypto to summiting Mt. Everest or inventing the airplane.
Sports betting ads were similarly phrased. “With every tap, a new legend is born—a chance to grab destiny, defy the odds, and strike,” says hockey legend Wayne Gretzky in a voiceover for another Super Bowl ad. “Because every bet with BetMGM has the potential for greatness.”
Indeed, who among us is brave enough to take a chance at the casino, the sportsbook, or the crypto market?
From a personal finance perspective, people with extra cash should feel free to put an unsubstantial portion of their wealth into high-risk, high-volatility assets like crypto or meme stocks or even Super Bowl bets (thanks for the two-touchdown performance, Cooper Kupp). Many financial planners recommend putting no more than 5% of one’s investment portfolio into crypto.)
But in most of the ads that aired during the Super Bowl, crypto is branded as an investment opportunity for the masses, even though it’s not regulated like one. And they suggest that abstaining from crypto means missing out on the next big thing, a life-changing investment.
The promise of crypto is arguably still in its early days, especially if web3 is our future.
But if crypto is mainstream enough that its evangelists are advertising on the Super Bowl to the tune of $7 million per 30-second spot, you’re not early. And if you’re late, you could get burned on the way down.