Matt Damon thought it was all very clear three or four months ago. For the actor from Massachusetts, the world was divided into cryptocurrency users and crypto-skeptics. The former were bold people ready to follow the tides of progress. The latter were stubborn losers, ignorant plebes, poor devils who couldn’t recognize a promising investment opportunity if it danced naked on their lap.
That, at least, was the message behind “Fortune Favors the Brave,” this spring’s marketing campaign for the digital investment platform Crypto.com, starring Matt Damon.
The strategists behind the ad campaign spared no expense. It launched with a Super Bowl commercial. Today, the minute-long clip is laughable: the Mars (2015) protagonist compares cryptocurrency investors with space travel pioneers like Galileo and Neil Armstrong.
The commercial’s pompous tone inspired mockery on social media. South Park went on to parody it. But few explicitly questioned its message. An approachable celebrity was inviting us to invest in financial assets at the vanguard of technology. What was the problem?
Months later, successive collapses have brought some cryptocurrencies’ values to record lows. Matt Damon’s participation in Crypto.com’s advertising ploy no longer seems so innocent. Since the end of May, the actor has faced relentless attacks in the same arenas where he was once adored. Months later, after the successive crashes that have brought the price of some of the most popular cryptocurrencies to historical lows, Matt Damon’s participation in the Crypto.com publicity masquerade no longer seems so innocent. Since the end of May, the actor has been mercilessly buffeted on the very forums that seemed to adore him.
On Twitter, the world’s most bustling water cooler, he has been called a “grifter” and “scam artist.” Hundreds of more-or-less anonymous users accuse him of causing them to lose their life savings by investing in volatile or fraudulent assets.
If Damon were a company, we’d say he was suffering a reputational crisis. After decades slowly building an image of a normal guy, unchanged by fame and fortune, he ended up linked to a financial disaster, the object of public scorn. And the now-viral marketing campaign only adds to the humiliation.
He has opted for a tactical retreat. He has not spoken about the topic. He is limiting his public appearances until the storm quiets.
For Damon, a baby boomer born in 1970, keeping a low profile may not be an issue. He has never had much of a social media presence. This is a man after all, who boasts about his disdain for political correctness. Until recently, he thought Facebook and “maybe Instagram” were the only social networks necessary to use. And he only stopped using the word “faggot” when his daughter Stella convinced him that it was offensive for homosexuals below 40.
The strange thing, really, is that someone like him would end up involved in a promotional campaign for digital assets. But Damon took his role as Crypto.com ambassador very seriously. With the enthusiasm of a convert, in close collaboration with the cryptocurrency platform, he launched an NGO dedicated to delivering potable water to regions of the planet that lack it. The initiative raised money by, of course, selling digital art—the famous NFTs, virtual images that have sold for fortunes.
At the end of 2021, the cryptocurrency markets had begun to erupt into the mainstream. The challenge was to get normal people—even poor people—on board. And who better than someone with the street cred of Matt Damon? Jemima Kelly, technology markets expert at the Financial Times, points out, ironically, that “Matt was paid down to the last cent in solid US dollars, as simple and practical as it would have been to pay him in Bitcoin.”
The Massachusetts actor isn’t the only celebrity whose reputation has suffered after the crypto apocalypse. The VIP crypto outcasts are legion. The British model Cara Delevingne has been scorned for participating in a charity campaign in which an NFT of her vagina was auctioned. Snoop Dog and Ellen Degeneres recently began toting their investments both in cryptocurrency and NFTs, and today they’re paying the price. Even Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, actively promoted the sale of crypto art on social media, only to end up recognizing that he didn’t really know what he was selling.
Cameroonian NBA player Joel Embiid starred in another Crypto.com spot, “Bravery is a Process.” The campaign was launched on May 6, and it was the first attempt to counteract the negative impact of the plunge in Bitcoin’s value.
In it, Bill Self, the man who discovered Embiid when he was a teenager who barely knew how to toss a ball, utters a phrase that now seems more unfortunate than ever: “Even when our path didn’t make sense to everyone else, we kept going.” In other words, buy Bitcoin right now, when everyone is selling to try to salvage the remains of the shipwreck.
Reese Witherspoon also associated herself with the image of that now-infamous world. The actress authored the viral phrase “Crypto is here to stay.” Now, she says she may have spoken out of ignorance. What she hasn’t explained, though, is how much money she made by becoming a lobbyist for a product she never believed in.
But few have been quite as embarrassed as Gwyneth Paltrow, who posted a tweet affirming that cryptocurrency is “feminist” because it allows women to invest under the same conditions as men. That is, as Jemima Kelly says, “that feminism, as Paltrow understands it, is about giving women the opportunity to participate in pyramid schemes.”
The list goes on. Elon Musk has invested in almost everything imaginable, including in digital assets. In 2021 the magnate boasted that every time he tweeted, the value of crypto assets climbed 10 points. Today, those words follow him. Paris Hilton, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to care about the negative repercussions of her ad campaigns, receiving constant insults on social media for baptizing her last two dogs Crypto and Ether, after the cryptocurrency Ethereal. She continues attending to her community of 17 million Twitter followers.
The actress Mila Kunis, football player Tom Brady and tennis player Naomi Osaka are among the other celebrities who now refuse to talk about their previous associations with the cryptoverse. It’s a part of their pasts that they’d rather forget, a lucrative skeleton in their closets.
Larry David also got burned. In November, the comedian appeared in a viral ad in which he complained about newfangled inventions like electricity and the wheel, going on to insist that he’d never invest in anything that started with “crypto.” The campaign’s tagline was “don’t be like Larry.” Today, Jeff Schaffer, the clip’s director, says, “Neither Larry nor I have the slightest idea how these financial products work. We haven’t bought them and we don’t follow their evolution, so we can’t say much about them.”
If any celebrity is now gaining unconditional fans for their attitude towards Bitcoin, it is Keanu Reeves. In a conversation with The Verge, Reeves laughed when asked if he had thought about investing in digital assets like NFTs, allegedly unique pieces of art that are, in his words, “easily reproduced.”
For Dani Di Placido of Forbes magazine, Keanu once again “represents the wisdom of the common man: if you don’t understand why someone would pay millions to own a .jpg that anyone could copy, maybe it’s because it doesn’t make any sense.” Di Placido adds, “I can’t wait to explain to my grandchildren that, in the middle of the climate apocalypse, we accelerated the consumption of fossil fuels in order to invent new coins and sell each other a handful of images of bored monkeys.” Maybe Matt Damon should have talked to Keanu Reeves before he filmed that Super Bowl ad.