The Crypto Industry’s Super Bowl Publicity Blitz Fails
This year’s Super Bowl was more than an American football game. It became a chapter of financial history as the cryptocurrency industry spent millions of dollars on star-studded TV commercials that played on the fear of missing out on the next big thing in investing.
“Fortune smiles on the brave,” said an ad for Singapore-based exchange Crypto.com, which featured basketball’s LeBron James advising a computer-generated version of himself as a teenager that “if you want write history, you have to call your own shots”.
Two months later, stealth is proving to be the best part of value in the markets for bitcoin and other major cryptocurrencies. Trading turned sluggish in the weeks following the Super Bowl publicity blitz as fundamental factors — ranging from rising interest rates to war in Ukraine — dampened investor spirits.
“We haven’t seen a massive influx of retail investors into crypto after the Super Bowl ads,” said Noelle Acheson, head of market intelligence at Genesis Trading, a digital asset broker based in Chicago. New York which claims to have managed $116.5 billion in spot crypto. exchanges last year. “Volumes are low due to huge uncertainty in the markets.”
Accurately measuring cryptocurrency activity is difficult due to the large number of trading platforms around the world that are subject to little or no regulatory oversight and produce data of questionable reliability. Analysts like Acheson base their observations on trade numbers reported by larger, better-known exchanges that are considered more reliable.
These measures point to a sharp decline in business activity in recent months. The Block Legitimate Index, for example, shows spot crypto volumes have remained below $1 billion every month this year after surpassing that number in nine of the 12 months of 2021. In March, the month after the Super Bowl, the index showed $739 billion in activity, down from $2.2 billion in May of last year.
Prices have fallen along with trading volumes. Bitcoin fell from nearly $69,000 in November to just over $33,000 in January. Since then, it has bounced between around $36,000 and $47,000 most days.
For crypto connoisseurs, the recent market action suggests that big investors, rather than retail bettors, are taking the lead. Digital assets are increasingly being used to spice up the portfolios of larger players, they say, taking their place alongside other “risky assets”. When these investors become cautious, they reduce their crypto holdings, taking advantage of the around-the-clock trading of digital assets to effect their exits.
“Because bitcoin has been viewed by many large macro investors as a risky asset — it’s high volatility, a feature, not a bug — so it’s treated as a risky asset,” Acheson said. “When these big funds need to reduce their risk, bitcoin is a highly liquid, high-volatility asset that trades 24/7/365, so it’s relatively easy to offload.”
Chris Zuehlke, a partner at DRW, a Chicago-based trading firm and global head of the firm’s cryptocurrency arm, Cumberland, said he sees two sets of investors competing in the crypto market this year. You sell in turbulent times, as you would with other investments in promising technologies. The other is buying the dip, believing that the original proponents of cryptocurrencies could serve as a hedge against the vagaries of fiat currencies and the governments that oversee them.
“Part of the world sees it as a risky asset and trades it similar to some high-growth tech stocks,” he said. “Another fraction of the world sees it as a risk asset, or a risk hedging asset, a store of value. That push and pull between those two camps, I think, is what’s defined that range in which we we’ve been sitting for the past two months.
Another manifestation of the increasingly important role big investors are playing in the crypto market is the growth of complex derivatives trading strategies. In March, Cumberland announced that it was trading bespoke OTC options “in a number of rooms”. Zuehlke said that “although vanilla options are interesting for people, they evolve very quickly into more complex structures”.
It’s an intriguing fate for a pop cultural phenomenon. Even as cryptocurrencies become the stuff of Super Bowl advertisements – like cars, beer, or Hollywood blockbusters – the trading of these digital assets is becoming increasingly difficult for the average person to understand.
Additional reporting by Adam Samson and Joshua Oliver in London