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Cryptocurrency, or crypto, is a digital form of money whose transactions are processed and recorded on a blockchain. It uses cryptography—a secure method of communication—to maintain a degree of anonymity between transactors, but its dependence on an underlying blockchain allows for public transparency without the need for a centralized authority.
Read: Metaverse and Web3 marketing glossary
There are over 18,000 cryptocurrencies in existence, but the top two are bitcoin and ether. Bitcoin is the oldest crypto (released in 2009) with the largest market cap, and is mostly used as a store of value or payment alternative. Ether has the second-largest market cap, but it differs from bitcoin in that its home blockchain, Ethereum, is more akin to an app-building platform than a digital cash system. The ether coin is thusly used for a variety of applications, including decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
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Crypto can be understood as the essential building block of the Web3 economy. It allows for censorship-resistant transactions without the need for centralized parties. In Web3, users are supposed to experience digital ownership, meaning full control of their data and their assets. This is where NFTs come in, as they grant that level of ownership. But in order to stay within a decentralized ecosystem, decentralized payment methods should be used. This is why crypto is used to trade NFTs and other assets in Web3.
Moreover, since the metaverse is basically the social layer of Web3, it too needs a financial mechanism for open economic activity, but that also belongs to no central authority and points to an undeniable record of ownership (the blockchain). Hence metaverse platforms offering their own native coins, like The Sandbox and Decentraland.
A crypto exchange is a platform through which buyers and sellers can trade crypto. While some of the more popular exchanges are centralized, much like a traditional stock exchange, others are decentralized, meaning no one entity maintains control. Examples of the former (which almost entirely account for crypto marketing spend), include Coinbase, FTX, Binance and Crypto.com; examples of the latter include Uniswap and PancakeSwap.
Read: Binance ad urges consumers not to trust celeb crypto ads
The safety of crypto is a hotly contested topic. While the most popular blockchains are extremely successful in working as they’re programmed (e.g. maintaining the security of transactions), their effectiveness as a financial investment is less trusted. Cryptos are volatile and may not be as scalable as proponents previously thought. In the case of smart-contract-based blockchains such as Ethereum, this makes for a shaky foundation beneath applications like NFTs.
As of June 2022, the crypto market was in the midst of a wide-scale crash that erased roughly two-thirds, or $2 trillion, from its overall market cap. The decline began in mid-November 2021, after bitcoin and ether reached all-time highs of $69,045 and $4,878, respectively.
As to why crypto is crashing, the explanations vary. Macroeconomic conditions, such as high inflation and supply chain issues, have led to an overall decline in the stock market, particularly tech stocks, with which leading crypto assets are correlated. Within the past two months, the Federal Reserve has enacted unprecedented intervention to curb inflation, which has further drawn interest away from risky assets like crypto.
There is also turmoil within the crypto space that has thrown cold water on its previous heat. In May, a pair of leading coins that were algorithmically tied, TerraUSD and Luna, collapsed in dramatic fashion, producing a series of knock-on effects, such as unraveling leverage and general FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that are still compounding today.
Crypto-based tools have seen an explosion of interest from brands and agencies that think Web3 will be the next iteration of the internet. Land in metaverse worlds like Decentraland and The Sandbox depend on native cryptocurrencies, and brands from Adidas to Time Magazine have acquired their own spaces to build experiences for consumers. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are sometimes activated through NFT drops, allowing marketers to more deeply incorporate participation from their biggest fans. Finally, numerous brands have bought their crypto domains in order to build out their identity in Web3. Examples include Budweiser, which bought “beer.eth,” Nike’s RTFKT, which bought “dotswoosh.eth” and Puma, which bought “puma.eth.”
Read: Why DAOs should be considered in Web3 marketing
An increasing number of brands have begun to embrace crypto payments not merely as an indication of their long-term belief in Web3, but also as a way to attract digital audiences who use or are interested in the space. Fitness brand Equinox, for example, found that consumers were discovering products and services by virtue of their belonging to crypto-interested communities. The franchise soon rolled out crypto as a payment option. A similar set of circumstances propelled Gucci to open crypto payments; the brand has a strong presence already in NFTs and crypto-friendly platforms like Discord, which means their consumers are more likely to support digital payment.
Read: Crypto payments could be a powerful marketing tool
Crypto-native brands are using both traditional and newer forms of marketing for the same reasons that any brand creates ads: to attract consumers. The main spenders—mostly crypto exchanges—made a splash during this past year’s Super Bowl, which was aptly dubbed the “Crypto Bowl,” and have continued to command the public’s attention through provocative national spots. For example, Coinbase released a 30-second ad targeted at those who were claiming that crypto was dead; fellow exchange Okcoin polled controversial topics in its own attention-demanding campaign.Crypto brands are also teaming with celebrities to build trust with skeptical consumers, although these endorsements have largely fueled the opposite reactions. In fact, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a public service campaign humorously disavowing celebrity advice on crypto investing.
Read: ‘God hates NFTs’—staged anti-crypto protest goes viral
Similarly, out-of-home sponsorships have been activated in order to draw mainstream attention to crypto names. Last year, Crypto.com acquired naming rights to the Staples Center in Los Angeles and FTX did the same for the Miami Heat’s home arena.
Since the crypto market is still largely unregulated, legality as it pertains to advertising is somewhat shaky. Generally speaking, exchanges that are registered at both national and state levels are allowed to advertise, as are some crypto-based products like wallets and mining hardware. Cryptocurrencies themselves face more obstacles, and on some platforms are outright banned from advertising.
Google, for example, does not allow currencies or DeFi apps to advertise, nor does it allow aggregator platforms like CoinMarketCap. Meta, in many cases, requires prospective advertisers to acquire prior written permission, particularly those that promote monetization, reselling, swapping and staking coins. It is best practice to research a company’s respective policy on crypto advertising before planning a campaign.
In this article:
Asa Hiken is a technology reporter covering digital marketing, social media platforms and innovation. A graduate of Northwestern University, he joined Ad Age after writing for Marketing Dive, where he focused on the alcohol space and digital privacy.