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Why Matt Damon Shilling for Crypto?

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The cryptocurrency industry’s marketing efforts focus on young people, especially young men. Surveys have shown that approximately 40% of all American males between the ages of 18 and 29 have invested, traded, or used some form of cryptocurrency. Last year, Crypto.com bought the naming rights to the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings for $700 million; the former Staples Center is now Crypto.com Arena. The company has signed sponsorship deals with professional UFC fighters and prestigious French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. Crypto.com is going hard after the guys.

Damon offers a special kind of appeal to this demographic. His star power is based on brain and brawn; he can recite magniloquent phrases while looking like he could fillet an enemy, Jason Bourne style, armed only with a Bic pen. In the ad, his words are high-placed — all about history and bravery — but they amount to a macho taunt: If you’re a real man, you’ll buy crypto.

The gloom of this terrain is surprising. For the past few weeks, watching sports TV — where the Crypto.com spot airs repeatedly, alongside ads for other crypto platforms and an onslaught of ads for sports gaming apps — I I couldn’t help but feel that the culture has taken a sinister turn: that we’ve sanctioned an economy in which tech start-ups compete, in the open, to lure in the vulnerable with get-rich-quick schemes. Yet what’s most disturbing about the ad is the pitch it doesn’t make. Traditionally, an advertisement offers an affirmative case for its product, a vision of the fulfillment that will come if you wear those jeans or drive that truck. This announcement does not disturb. It shows a brief glimpse of a young couple closing their eyes in a nightclub – an insinuation, I suppose, that crypto has sex appeal. But the announcement builds inexorably towards that final shot of Mars, where Matt Damon’s astronaut was ditched in a blockbuster movie and where Elon Musk, the world’s second-richest man and a crypto enthusiast, says that he plans to build a colony to survive the end of civilization on Earth.

We live in troubled times. Young people, in particular, can feel like they are looking overboard, economically and existentially. The message of this advertisement for them seems to be that the social pact is broken, that the old ideals of security and good living are no longer relevant. What’s left are moonshots, big swings, high-stakes bets. You could place a long bet or take a flyer on Dogecoin. Maybe one day you’ll hitch a ride on Elon Musk’s shuttle to the red planet. The ad delivers on the promise of ‘fortune’, but what it really sells is the danger, the dark and desperate thrills of precariousness itself – because, after all, what do we have other? You could call it truth in advertising.


Source photographs: Theo Wargo/Getty Images; YouTube screenshots.