One year ago, on October 28, 2021, the company Crypto.com premiered an ad starring Matt Damon. After it appeared during NFL games, it drew a great deal of attention for Damon’s suggestion that only cowards would fail to buy cryptocurrency — but if you jumped in with both feet, you would be demonstrating courage comparable to that of astronauts. Crypto.com, based in Singapore, is a platform that mainly allows users to trade in cryptocurrencies.
On that day, bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency, was trading at $60,608 apiece. As of the moment this was published, 1 bitcoin costs $20,717.
That means that if you were encouraged by Damon to buy $1,000 worth of bitcoin last October 28, it would now be worth $342.
If you purchased $1,000 of Ethereum, the next most popular cryptocurrency, it would be worth $363. One thousand dollars of the Nasdaq Crypto Index is currently trading at $336.
As the crypto market has crashed, the Damon spot has been the subject of worldwide ridicule, and it seems destined to go down as one of the most magnificent own goals in advertising history. Crypto.com certainly recognizes this and wisely has set the YouTube version of the ad to private.
The good news is that you can still watch it here via Archive.org, and if you haven’t seen it already, you should not deny yourself its many joys. In it, Damon strides through a CGI Hall of Adventurers, past 1) a man who might be Christopher Columbus, 2) a mountain climber, 3) a Wright brother, 4) a man attempting to kiss a woman at a bar, and 5) a group of multiracial, gender-balanced, futuristic astronauts. Damon, who you can tell is authentic because he hasn’t shaved, tells us:
History is filled with almosts — those who almost adventured … who almost achieved … but ultimately, for them it proved to be too much. Then there are others: The ones who embrace the moment and commit. And in these moments of truth, these men and women, these mere mortals, just like you and me … as they peer over the edge, they calm their minds and steel their nerves with four simple words that have been whispered by the intrepid since the time of the Romans: “Fortune favors the brave.”
There are so many funny things about this, it’s hard to keep track. But to start, it’s a good idea to remember the likely origin of the phrase “fortune favors the brave.” In A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and military commander, witnessed the famed eruption of Mount Vesuvius from nearby. He decided to stage a rescue mission by sailing several ships straight toward the conflagration. His nephew later wrote: “Having hesitated a bit about whether he should turn back, he soon said to the helmsman, who was advising that he do just that: ‘Fortune favors the brave: head for Pomponianus.’”
This was indeed brave, but the fortune part didn’t work out, since Pliny got to his destination and was quickly asphyxiated. His body was found later covered in pumice.
It’s useful to keep this in mind if you watch the “Making Of” video about the ad (also now set to private). In it Steven Kalifowitz, Crypto.com’s chief marketing officer, explains that “Fortune favors the brave isn’t just a line for a campaign. It’s genuinely how Crypto.com sees the world.” And Crypto.com indeed seems to have charted a Pliny-esque path, as it reportedly just fired 40 percent of its workforce.
Then there’s the ad’s old-timey, 19th century-style hucksterism. It’s easy to imagine Damon standing next to his wagon in front of a curious crowd, proclaiming, “You, sir! The gentleman who rode here on his tandem velocipede! I see you’re here with your paramour with her parasol and enormous bustle. But she surely won’t favor you with her feminine affections any longer if you’re too meek to try Dr. Crypto’s Snake Amalgam!”
The ad is also full of easter eggs for crypto enthusiasts. The main astronaut’s name tag reads Satoshi, a reference to Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of bitcoin. The ceiling above the astronauts reads “HODL,” which stands for “Hold on for Dear Life,” a popular saying among crypto owners who vow not to sell their holdings no matter what happens to the price.
It’s unclear how Damon was compensated for the ad. A Bloomberg article from last October 28 says that Damon is an investor in Crypto.com but not whether he received shares for his work. It also says that Crypto.com made a $1 million donation to Damon’s charity Water.org, although it does not state that this was in return for the ad. “I’ve never done an endorsement like this,” Damon is quoted as saying. “We’re hoping this is the beginning of a great long-term collaboration.” (Damon’s publicist did not immediately respond to a request for comment and information on the terms of the ad.)
It is, of course, possible that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general will recover from their current swoon. The value of bitcoin collapsed by almost half in 2021 and then went on to new heights. Billionaire investor Peter Thiel has said that it could increase in value 100 times from its current level. If you’re a believer, feel free to bookmark this article so you can jeer at it when this comes to pass.
However, it appears more likely that the value of cryptocurrencies will continue to deteriorate since there’s no sign that they can serve any purpose that boring, regular money doesn’t already.
If this happens, this “Fortune favors the brave” ad will go down in history as a particularly vivid example of how money as a concept mesmerizes the human mind and overwhelms our ability to think rationally. How could it be otherwise? Money is both totally imaginary and also rules every aspect of our lives. The fact that it even got Damon — by all accounts an unusually intelligent and well-intentioned celebrity — shows just how powerful and dangerous it is.