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'Crypto' Attempts an Image Makeover—Again

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 20, 2023


The recent bad news affecting digital assets has prompted the industry to try to rebrand itself, The New York Times reported.

Start with the word “crypto,” which many in the industry now find tainted due to its association with recent failures, such as entrepreneurs Do Kwon’s cryptocurrencies Luna and TerraUSD and Samuel Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange. Some companies have removed the term from their marketing materials in favor of words such as “decentralization.”

As crypto companies distance themselves from these former celebrities, a rebranding is underway; some of these companies “moving gradually towards changing the narrative” even before FTX failed in November, Todd Irwin, the chief strategy officer at Fazer, a branding agency that has clients in the industry, told the Times. “After the FTX incident, the move has been turbocharged.”

This has happened before. After a boom in 2017 prompted scrutiny from law enforcement, some startups were exposed as scams, the Times reported. Compounding the industry’s troubles now are multiple blows, such as enforcement actions against several major crypto companies and the recent collapses of two banks invested in the industry, Silvergate Capital and Signature Bank.

“Rebranding doesn’t solve the fundamental problem,” Lee Reiners, a lecturing fellow at Duke Law School and a former Federal Reserve Bank of New York supervisor, told the Times, asking, “What is this good for? What problem does it solve?"

After entrepreneur Steven Saxton discussed his crypto startup with a bank, he told his chief technology officer just to say “blockchain” as the bankers “could be very sensitive to [crypto], and it could make them very nervous,” he said.

But even that term, for the publicly viewable ledger where crypto transactions are recorded, has suffered from negative connotations. One crypto mining company changed its name from Riot Blockchain to Riot Platforms.

As crypto companies attempt to capitalize on the release of viral chatbot ChatGPT, artificial intelligence (AI)-themed cryptocurrencies with names such as DogAI and CryptoGPT are surging in value and incorporating the technology into their offerings.

With Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange facing multiple investigations, its CEO, Changpeng Zhao, rolled out Bicasso, a product that uses AI technology to make artwork in the form of nonfungible tokens (NFTs).

“You can turn your creative visions into NFTs with AI,” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “Give it a try and show me what you make with it.”

Zhao and other industry figures have also posted videos on social media designed to bolster their image.

Troy Osinoff, aco-founder of Zurp, shifted the focus of his company, from simplifying complex crypto investments for mainstream consumers, to developing a credit card that targets Gen Z. He plans to offer it in the coming months but will now wait before incorporating crypto features.

“It’s already a hurdle to get people interested in crypto,” he told the Times. “We’re just waiting for it to normalize.”