Has crypto revived the dot-com era’s wonderful world of wacky ads?

—It may be that few understand the crypto craze, but ad agencies are having fun stirring up curiosity and stoking the “FOMO fires,” says Craig Redmond.—

A thousand years ago, a little historical blip called the “dot-com bubble” first helped save the advertising industry from a turn of the millennium recession, and then ruthlessly fed us back to its modern-day Robber Barons and their insatiably greedy, speculative appetite, feasting on the fragility of the market.

In the early doubly bubbly days, internet start-ups were popping up faster than the pimples on their adolescent founders’ foreheads. Pasty white geriatric CEOs were throwing their fortunes at the unfathomable phenomenon like kerosine onto a bush fire, while ad agencies were clambering over each other to bask in the glow of the raging inferno.

My own feet were held to the flames when an impromptu pitch was called for one such Silicon Valley darling called City Search—an early and distant beta ancestor of Yelp.

My account guy and I were thrust onto a flight to L.A. on a Saturday night for an early Monday morning presentation. We got up on Sunday to rehearse, but agreed we had the content already down, and instead spent the day driving to Malibu in a lime green Mustang convertible my pitch partner in crime had rented. “When in Rome,” he had said with a devilish grin.

Unfortunately, the mountain and ocean breezes impeded my SPF judgement. I spent the entire night suffering from sun stroke, and then showed up to the pitch looking like an over-cooked lobster.

The start-up neophytes looked at me like I had arrived from another planet. So I smiled and provided a healthy serving of northern exposure self-deprecation: “This is what George Hamilton would look like if he were Canadian,” I chortled through the pain. They laughed out loud.

We presented brilliantly. And they gave the business to a cheaper, newbie agency out of Sausalito.

Not long thereafter, the dot.com bubble burst, the NASDAQ imploded, and some of the world’s finest young agencies, which had bet their second and third mortgages on the internet, shuttered their doors. While the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google gobbled up all those little start-ups like whale sharks to krill.

But not before some of the most wonderfully wacky advertising ever witnessed was created in hopes of bottling that lightening.

And it was because those lucky creative ingenues didn’t have to explain the internet. All they had to do was drive users to a start-up website, by any means possible. The most outrageous was, appropriately enough, for Outpost.com, which solicited complaints to get their name out there:

(And, just for shits and giggles, here’s a few more from a Fast Company 20-year retrospective.)

Which brings us kicking and screaming to this week’s show and tell. Don’t look now, but that wonderful world of wack might just be back. The crypto currency craze taking hold these past few years might just be our own present-day dot.com boom, bubble, or bust.

Nobody understands it. Nobody can explain it. And nobody needs to do either. We ad sorcerers just need to twirl our wands, stir up curiosity, stoke the FOMO fires of terror, and proliferate the channel universe with mystical, magical content.

Seeking instant credibility by celebrity association seems to be the common theme of Crypto marketing. We’ve all seen Matt Damon strutting the historic halls of heroism, goading us into converting our savings to bitcoin by heeding his warning that “fortune favours the brave.” But it felt overly solemn and seemingly targeted at an older audience less willing to loosen their purse strings to Fintech.

Then there came the satirical approach, ridiculing that very same generation of cyber economy naysayers and mocking their arrested development.

FTX: Larry David

Goading and mocking viewers has a short runway, which is why I preferred this other approach—inspiring the audience to collectively join the crypto movement. A message of inclusion that will resonate with younger early adopters by making them feel part of something bigger than themselves… and their parents.

FTX: Tom Brady

More recently comes another new crypto brand out of Europe. But they are taking neither American approach, choosing instead to borrow a page from an ancient dot.com forefather/mother: The aforementioned, outpost.com. Just repeating their cryptic name over and over again in the hopes of stockpiling hits to their website and maybe phishing a few fish.

What is OKX?

Even though it’s been a couple of years, it’s still early days for the crypto currency industry and its advertising allies attempting to compel consumers to join the beguiling yet befuddling fintech adoption line. Hopefully for the pioneers and their agency champions, they won’t suffer the same short-lived fate of the dot.com pioneers.

Regardless, it’s an interesting time and is making for some particularly interesting work.

And who knows? It may even conjure the possibility of a return visit to the City of Angels for yours truly, with perhaps fewer melanoma-inducing circumstances.

Craig Redmond