Crypto marketing shouldn’t be a circus

Just because your brand has the word burn in it doesn’t mean you have to literally set yourself on fire


Midjourney modified by Blockworks


This Wednesday, I spent my lunch hour watching a blockchain founder set themselves on fire.

The man, who goes by Burnt Banksy and is known for burning a Banksy, is totally fine due to a fire retardant suit and a nearby fire extinguisher. Rather than self-immolation as a form of political protest, this particular pseudo-burning was to celebrate the launch of a blockchain mainnet. 

I was promised something more radical than his somewhat profane act of burning a Banksy. What I got instead (according to one of my fellow bystanders, and a friend of the firebug himself) was a smaller act which really upset only one person. Yes, everyone is mad at Burnt Banksy for setting a Banksy on fire and destroying art, but only his mom is mad at him for setting himself on fire and risking a slight roast.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to make launching blockchains or releasing cutting edge crypto technology online into something sexy. It’s no wonder that crypto founders are quite literally setting themselves on fire to get attention for what is essentially pressing enter on your computer.

In real life, crypto companies in the past have gone to further extremes to advertise their products. An initial coin offering marketing stunt gone wrong led to the death of a sherpa in 2018 after the team tried to put a hard wallet with $50,000 in their native crypto on top of Mount Everest. More recently, memecoin Elon Goat Token got only crickets from their namesake after delivering a $600,000 monument of Elon Musk in goat form to Tesla headquarters. Even fiction has a problem spicing up code launches: Ari Juels’ crypto thriller, released last month, placed his protagonist on a glass bridge during a thunderstorm when he pressed the fatal button on his laptop that released life-saving code.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to release company news with a bang. Especially if you work in Web3, which often means that your success has required long days and nights sitting in a chair, in front of a computer, maybe even entirely alone due to crypto’s remote-first work ethos. 

Crypto’s desire for fireworks and explosions when you’ve reached a big milestone is therefore only natural, and can explain weird crypto marketing tactics like the limited release of a crypto-scented perfume with notes of ozone and moss in one Bahrain mall.

In its most nefarious form, crypto stunt advertising can potentially lead to celebrity-studded SuperBowl ads that really don’t age well, or even Kim Kardashian settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $1.2 million over Instagram endorsements. 

But all in all, this week’s blockchain launch and artificial self-immolation didn’t hurt any artwork or even anyone (despite the fact that one person in the front of the crowd tried taking bets on who would get a third-degree burn). 

And while there are no more crypto SuperBowl ads in the near future and a clear decline in overall celebrity Insta crypto shoutouts, maybe it’s not so bad to have a little extra fun celebrating the launch of some new computer code. 

Yes, it may be cringey and yes, someone’s mom might get upset, but if your main 9-5 involves sitting in front of a computer, there are certainly worse ways to spend your lunch break than watching an amateur pyromaniac put on a show at a warehouse in deep Brooklyn.

But on the other hand, it may be worth your time to put out that fire gimmick and instead try building a product that people actually need and will last longer than a news cycle. Just food for thought.

I don’t care much about tech, I don’t care a whole lot about finance, either. I care about writing stories and watching weird things unfold. And that’s why I’ve ended up in crypto.

But because I’m missing that passion for what crypto and blockchain are all about — finance, tech, privacy, yadda yadda — I’m going to write instead about what I am actually interested in. Everything about crypto that has very little to do with crypto.

That’s what this column will be about. All the tangential stories that come out of the blockchain and crypto space, what I think about them, and how I navigate it all as a skeptical former Russian literature major.

It’s precisely my perch as an outsider that lets me do what I do: Opine on all sides of any crypto issue, no strings attached, no skin in the game.

If you want to talk crypto with me, let’s go off topic.

Start your day with top crypto insights from David Canellis and Katherine Ross. Subscribe to the Empire newsletter.


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