The Super Bowl stops, and the commercials start. A serene setting, a celebrity endorsement and vague promises of the future — the signs for disaster are imminent. Bets are placed and shots are promised if the ad playing on the screen is about what we fear it to be. Then the buzzword drops — “crypto” — and the room erupts in groans. This cycle would repeat itself too many times throughout the Super Bowl’s commercial breaks, a space traditionally reserved for the most expensive and hopefully innovative advertisements. By the end of the night, my only option was to face the burning lights of the future and find an excuse to leave. The cryptocurrency Super Bowl ads tried to sell the future and failed, at least for me.
Two ads from two different companies epitomized the issues for me. The first was by FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange company based in the Bahamas. It featured famed comedian Larry David playing a character that resisted multiple major innovations in human civilization, starting at the wheel and ending at a crypto app. I’ll admit I’m fascinated by the implication that David is an immortal — always at the ripe age of 60 — who has existed since the dawn of civilization only to impede its evolution well before Philistines or Luddites. However, comparing an app for cryptocurrency to accomplishments like humans landing on the moon or indoor plumbing led me to believe the company should curb their enthusiasm.
This theme of crypto being a monumental change in history was prevalent in the second ad. The website crypto.com — a cryptocurrency exchange app based in Singapore — ran an ad with “The Martian” star Matt Damon. In it, Damon walks through simulations of mankind’s achievements. These are the halls of the vague and the vindicated: an unidentified seafaring explorer who seemingly never reached his goal, a mountain climber, a Wright Brother flying the first airplane, a couple kissing in a nightclub and some futuristic visions of astronauts — all while Damon waxes poetic about those who “almost” made history and those who actually did. The ad concludes with a shot of humanity’s next frontier and the reason Damon was chosen for this ad — Mars. The crypto.com logo is displayed over the Red Planet, likening the website to the next stage in interstellar travel. However, like the exhibits Damon walks through, the intrinsic value of crypto is still simulated and the human connection the ad tries to make is as well. The actor, the company and the ad are shown literally and figuratively as the farthest thing from down-to-earth.
In addition to this oversaturation of advertisement, the way crypto is presented is seen as irresponsible as well. Both ads and both companies paint crypto as surefire advancement to the future, but the legally-required, blink-and-you-miss-it fine print dispels that notion. FTX’s ad ends with giant text reading “DON’T MISS OUT ON THE NEXT BIG THING,” while its smaller disclaimer at the bottom reads: “This is not an investment recommendation. Cryptocurrencies are highly volatile, are subject to significant risks and may not be suitable for you.” The specific phrasing is reminiscent of drug ads listing side effects, but those are actually read out loud, not just quickly flashed for two seconds. The disclaimer for crypto.com lasts a little bit longer but it seems more dismissive of the risks in the crypto market, advising consumers to simply “…consider your risk appetite.” However, no matter how the risks are phrased, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
This theme of the future being so close yet so dull was present across all of these crypto ads. The price to pay for being featured between Super Bowl plays is monumental, so advertisers make sure their time counts. This has given rise to amazing ads that hold the entire nation as a captive audience. However, when several different crypto companies come forward all claiming that their company will be the one to bring us to the future, that their connection to crypto will make history, the impact is dulled. So many bright futures turn them all bleak, like a choose-your-own-adventure novel where the best ending is closing the book.
Daily Arts Contributor Saarthak Johri can be reached at [email protected].