All those celebrities pushing crypto not so vocal now

Basketball player Joel Embiid starring in Crypto.com's new ad titled Bravery Is A Process. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM CRYPTOCOM/YOUTUBE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - In the latest commercial from the virtual currency exchange Crypto.com, titled Bravery Is A Process, star basketball player Joel Embiid walks through Philadelphia while his former college coach Bill Self lends the narration.

"Even when our path didn't make sense to everyone else, we kept going," Mr Self says in the ad, which made its debut on May 6. "We keep going, until our path is the one they wish they'd taken."

What the ad does not say: The crypto market is in the middle of a meltdown. Buyers beware.

Enthusiasm for crypto from Hollywood celebrities and top athletes reached a fever pitch over the past year. On social media, during interviews and even in music videos, they portrayed virtual currency as a world with its own hip culture and philosophy - one that was more inclusive than traditional finance and that involved the chance to make loads of money.

The US National Football League's Super Bowl was nicknamed the "Crypto Bowl" this year because so many ads - which cost as much as US$7 million (S$9.7 billion) for 30 seconds - featured the industry, several of them starring boldface names.

But after investors watched hundreds of billions of dollars disappear in a sell-off this month, those famous boosters now face intensifying criticism that they helped drive vulnerable fans to invest in crypto without emphasising the risks.

Unlike clothes or snacks or many other products hawked by celebrities, the crypto market is volatile and rife with scams.

"This is real money that people are investing," said Dr Giovanni Compiani, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Chicago whose research has found that younger, lower-income investors tend to be overly optimistic about crypto's trajectory. "Those who promote it should be more upfront about the potential downsides."

So far, crypto's celebrity boosters have been largely silent about whether they have any second thoughts about their promotions.

Crypto.com declined to make Mr Embiid available to discuss his partnership with the company.

Hollywood star Matt Damon, who compared the advent of virtual money to the development of aviation and spaceflight in a critically panned but widely seen Crypto.com ad last year, did not respond to requests to weigh in.

No response either from basketball star LeBron James, who was featured in the company's Super Bowl commercial this year.

Actress Reese Witherspoon, an Oscar winner who declared online in December that "crypto is here to stay", did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither did actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, who lent her name to a bitcoin giveaway late last year.

Heiress Paris Hilton, who has nearly 17 million followers on Twitter who watch her coo over her lap dogs Crypto and Ether, did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither did several other famous crypto pushers, such as actress Mila Kunis and American football players Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (although Brady's and Rodgers' profiles on Twitter still feature laser eyes, a popular symbol of bitcoin bullishness).

A representative for tennis star Naomi Osaka, who became an ambassador for the crypto exchange FTX this year, wrote in an e-mail that "she sadly is overseas and not available".

Crypto's instability underscores a basic fallacy of celebrity marketing: A famous person's endorsement may be memorable but it does not make the product being pushed inherently worth trying.

"If I were Matt Damon or Reese Witherspoon, I would be questioning my willingness to take on this kind of gig," said Syracuse University associate professor of marketing Beth Egan.

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