You know the guy. He wears a Moncler vest, is always on his phone, and has very strong opinions on which NFTs you should buy.
He also wants to tell you all about how much money he made off his latest cryptocurrency investment and how it all works.
This persona, known as the “crypto bro,” has proliferated over the past two years as digital currencies’ spike in value tipped them from fringe investments to pop-culture touchstones. The crypto bro has become part of the cultural lexicon, earning a GQ profile and hashtags on Twitter and TikTok.
The stereotype is the result of crypto’s arrival as The Next Big Thing. This year’s Super Bowl ads led some to dub it the Crypto Bowl. Alumni of NBC’s The Bachelor are diving into NFT influencing. The mayors of both Miami and New York are trying to rebrand their cities as crypto hubs — New York’s Eric Adams is even taking his first three paychecks in crypto. Last month, people like Bill Clinton and Tom Brady gathered in the Bahamas to talk about “Web 3.0,” a collection of online services powered by blockchain technology dubbed the “next phase” of the internet.
The hype has left some gasping for air. Vox’s Rebecca Jennings described a Gary Vaynerchuk-hosted talk dedicated to NFTs as “the most unpleasant event I’ve ever attended.” There’s a whole Reddit thread dedicated to why crypto investors “are the most annoying.” And, as one person recently tweeted, “God, I hate crypto so much.”
Sasha Mutchnik, a 25-year-old who posts memes about subcultures on the popular Instagram account @starterpacksofNYC, likened the “crypto bro” to New York City “finance guys” — think the much-maligned Chad and Brad in their Patagonia vests. They’re also part “tech bro,” the hoodie-and-sneakers persona mocked in HBO’s Silicon Valley.
“Entitled by a combination of money and hype,” Mutchnik told me, the crypto guy is “so drunk on the success of this thing that no one (aside from him and his fellow bros who got in early) really understands that it’s all he wants to talk about.”
Mutchnik thinks that’s a shame, considering the many companies working to make crypto platforms and tech feel relevant and useful to daily life.
“The tech itself, and the majority of those working with it, isn’t douchey or gross or unappealing,” she said. “Gatekeeping it with annoying language and endless merch and ambiguous minimalist logos, however, kind of is.”
But there’s something deeper than annoyance in popular disdain for crypto. It’s a foreign concept to many, with confusing technical jargon and an ethos of a Matrix-like future where even more of our lives are online — at a time when many people crave IRL interactions after two years of a pandemic. When we’re faced with such unfamiliarity, we retreat, and even push back if it’s shoved in our faces.
Celebrities of all stripes, from Matt Damon and Gen Z influencer Charlie D’Amelio to Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Bieber, have started partnering with brands like Crypto.com or the crypto app Gemini to promote the emerging currency.
Reese Witherspoon tweeted in January, “In the (near) future, every person will have a parallel digital identity. Avatars, crypto wallets, digital goods will be the norm. Are you planning for this?”
Jonah Berger, a Wharton marketing professor, explains why this aggressive pitch may not sit well with everyone.
“People feel like they’re being pitched,” Berger told me. “In some ways, it feels a little bit like a drug, which also makes it feel a little bit like a scam. Why are so many people trying so hard? It might be because it’s not really real.”
It’s a red flag after the celebrity-endorsed scams of recent years like Fyre Fest, Theranos, and the Anna Delvey foundation. Plus, the crypto world has seen some major losses and scams of its own: The developers of one popular NFT game lost $600 million in user investments due to a security lapse, and a “squid game” coin spiked in value amid the popularity of a show of the same name, before disappearing from the internet.
It doesn’t help that Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather are both facing a lawsuit alleging that their crypto promotions were intended to boost the price of their own tokens in order to make money “at the expense of their followers and investors,” according to plaintiffs.
We’re even more skeptical when something we deem suspicious seems to pop up everywhere. Berger has spent a decade researching consumer behavior. In his most recent book, “The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind,” he explores how people push back when they’re feeling pushed, a concept known as “reactance.”
We feel it when we ignore spam in our inbox, a piece of junk mail, or an annoying TV ad. It’s also partly why some people are so resistant to crypto, when we see it being touted everywhere from Witherspoon’s Twitter to “The Tonight Show,” where Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton compared their NFT purchases.
“People don’t like being sold on something,” Berger said. “When they feel like someone’s trying to persuade them, their anti-persuasion radar goes off.”
Talk of bitcoin and ether sets off another kind of alarm: fear of the unknown.
Most Americans have known the basics of how money works from a young age. Paper bills and coins are tangible and easy to see being exchanged for goods. The concept of a digital currency can be harder to grasp, and it’s intimidating, as if you need to be tech-savvy to understand it, 19-year-old cryptocurrency influencer Miss Teen Crypto told me.
“In reality we use tech everyday that we don’t really understand, such as using a debit card — we don’t know the technicalities behind the transaction but we know that it works,” she said. “This will be the same with cryptocurrency sooner rather than later.”
Not everyone agrees, and it has nothing to do with the crypto bro. Cryptomarkets themselves have been in turmoil recently, with the price of bitcoin more than 50% down from its late-2021 high. “As an emerging asset class, the relatively high level of can give pause to some,” David Lawant, director of research at BitWise Asset Management, told me.
Plus, a lack of regulation, environmental concerns over the amount of electricity required, and disagreements on how to value digital currencies, have sparked legitimate concerns over the future of crypto as a worthy financial tool. Warren Buffet has even said he wouldn’t buy “all of the bitcoin in the world” for $25.
Regardless of the reasons for it, in timidation begets fear. As Carla Marie Manly, a psychologist and author of the book “Joy From Fear,” explained to me, it’s an evolutionary response from our caveman days, when humans learned to be wary, favoring situations that feel familiar and safe. Most have a low tolerance for risk, particularly in regards to their health, safety, or finances, she said.
“Those who find crypto culture entirely foreign will likely tend to feel overwhelmed and intimidated,” she said.
After all, some of us may feel closer to our caveman days than to a world in which NFTs, dogecoin, and Coinbase reign supreme. The names and opacity of their meanings signal a shift toward a more futuristic society.
“Consciously and unconsciously, they would feel apprehensive about what the future change would bring,” Manly said.
On the other hand, according to Manly, there’s another category of people who get a thrill from the knowledge they have about crypto, especially if they are in a minority.
“Those who understand this realm will likely feel highly comfortable and largely unintimidated; their sense of competency will often override any feelings of intimidation and insecurity,” she said.
This group, as Lawant said, have “created their own shared stories, narratives, memes, and other social norms.” That can feel alienating or even threatening to some who don’t share their values, he added.
That’s in line with Berger’s research, which found that social influence can lead us to either do the same — or the opposite — of others, depending on how we view their identity relative to our own.
“People like doing things that people like them are doing, and they tend to avoid doing things that other people who are not like them are doing,” he said.
Part of this involves deliberately shunning a popular trend because certain people like it to demonstrate that you’re against it. “Some of the folks that are doing crypto have a particular identity that other people might not necessarily want to associate themselves with,” Berger said.
He says that those people might think, “This is not a ‘me’ thing. Even though it has status for some people, this is not it for me.”
That’s because investing in — and talking about — crypto suggests you are a certain type of person.
“This is a different strain of dude than the Silicon Valley tech bro,” Mutchnik, the @starterpacksofNYC founder, said. “This guy is probably not wearing AllBirds or a Patagonia vest. He might be wearing a Moncler vest, or some exorbitantly expensive sneakers. There’s a sort of need (or at least desire) to be perceived as trendy or plugged-in among these guys.”
But the crypto dude is a stereotype, just like any other. As Mutchnik points out, not all crypto enthusiasts are guys — there’s a push for crypto sisterhood. Nor do all crypto enthusiasts endlessly talk about bitcoin, with many trying to make crypto more accessible to people outside the stereotypical “crypto bro” crowd.” Boys Club, cofounded by 37-year-old Deana Burke and 29-year-old Natasha Hoskins, is meant to welcome women and nonbinary people into the crypto space. Another group, Women in NFTs, as the name implies, also wants to open up crypto to women.
But the fact that the stereotype exists is enough to put people off. As Mutchnik said, “Crypto isn’t all bad, it’s just been marketed badly.”
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