Of course crypto went all-in on the Super Bowl

When your grift needs more suckers to survive, you shill to the biggest audience you can find.

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Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you’re a part of a pyramid scheme. Maybe you know that’s what it is, or maybe you truly believe in it, but either way, it’s a pyramid scheme. And in order for it to run, you need a constant flow of new blood. You need new people who don’t really understand what you’re doing, but they see people making money and want in. And let’s say that your pyramid scheme has been having a real rough go of things lately, and you’re down big. Getting a bunch of new people in could allow you to cash out. What would be the ideal space to reach lots of folks with a promise of wealth and a message of FOMO for anyone who fails to get on board?

Spoiler alert: It takes place on a Sunday in February. That’s right: Four cryptocurrency companies — all crypto exchanges where people turn real money into fake money in hopes that the lines go up — managed to get national advertisements during the biggest televised event of the year, Super Bowl LVI.

Coinbase got the most attention, broadcasting a DVD screensaver-style QR code for 60 seconds to lure folks into visiting their app, which then crashed. You’d think that if you drop more than $6.5 million for a commercial, you might want to put some money into maintaining your servers, but hey, that’s just me. Those who did get through to the Coinbase app were met with an offer: $15 of Bitcoin, just for signing up. This is, of course, a common tactic of any gambling site: “Here’s some funny money, it’s not worth anything but it’s enough to get you hooked.”

Other crypto exchanges went a more conventional route, pulling in celebrities for their spots. FTX, another exchange, tapped comedian Larry David, who spent the ad dismissing major technological innovations throughout human history, including the wheel, toilets, electricity, and democracy — which, sure? Those all seem equal to crypto, I guess. The ad ends with the message, “Don’t be like Larry. Don’t miss out on the next big thing.” What world-changing innovation crypto offers is never explained in the ad — the real message is that if you don’t get it, you’re a fool.

LeBron James also got in on the crypto craze, starring in a vaguely charming ad for Crypto.com, the company that owns the naming rights for the arena that James currently plays his home games in. James went back in time to talk to an 18-year-old version of himself to tell him about all the great things the future holds. Crypto is not actually mentioned once in the ad, and young LeBron will do fine without being told to buy Bitcoin. But, again, the message is pretty simple: Crypto is the next big thing. It’s basically like if you could bet on LeBron James’s future just before he goes pro. Duh.

For all the “future of currency” talk that Bitcoin has generated over the years, it is largely useless. It’s wasteful, slow, and unreliable. It has zero use in the real world. It only exists as a speculative “asset” that early adopters sell off to others, who will then try to do the same thing until eventually, someone is left holding the bag. It’s a game of hot potato, and it requires more players for the top of the pyramid to win.

Just 1,000 people hold 40% of all Bitcoin. Most of them bought early, before the average person had any idea what cryptocurrency was. Their goal is to cash out for maximum profit, and they need more buyers to sell to in order to do that. They can’t sell the actual product itself because it does not have any utility, so they sell the idea of getting rich and the fear of missing out.

The truth is, getting into crypto now is not like betting on LeBron James in 2003. It’s like betting on LeBron’s future now. You missed most, if not all, of the good stuff. (No offense, King.) If your introduction to crypto is a Super Bowl commercial, you are not a future crypto millionaire. You are a mark.