Why Larry David Was Awkwardly Shilling Crypto at the Super Bowl
Larry David and other celebrities, including LeBron James, were mouthpieces for Big Crypto in the Super Bowl ads this year.
As things often do, it all started with Matt Damon. Back in 2021, the star of The Last Duel, clad in a black t-shirt, appeared in an expensive-looking advertisement where he solemnly reminded viewers that, "History is filled with almosts." Instead of selling a carbonated beverage, a crunchy snack, a sports utility vehicle, or a more convenient way to do your taxes online, he was hawking a product that mostly went conspicuously unmentioned in the copy of the ad itself. With all the gravitas Jason Bourne can summon, he wanted to tell you fortune favors the brave—and, according to the ad, the brave shop at Crypto.com.
As Slate pointed out earlier this year, Damon was hardly the first celebrity to shill for cryptocurrencies—Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Brady, and Spike Lee have lent their cred to the digital coin marketplace—but he was arguably the most famous. It turns out, Damon's commercial was only the beginning in what has become a celeb-endorsement gold rush. In January, it felt like every famous actor or reality star was dropping an NFT (which stands for non-fungible token), with this clip of Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton discussing their digital art going viral for its Verhoeven-ian eeriness. Then, during the Super Bowl, the crypto-craze claimed even more A-listers.
First, there was the celeb-less ad for CoinBase, which featured a QR-code bouncing around the screen for its entire runtime. (The ad was reportedly popular enough to crash the app during the broadcast.) Then there was a Cyrpto.com ad featuring LeBron James talking to a younger CG version of himself, again hitting the Damon message about fortune favoring the brave. Odd that future LeBron didn't tell young LeBron that he'd be in a crypto ad one day.
But the biggest "get" was the appearance of Larry David in an ad, the first he's ever been in, for the Bahamas-based FTX Trading, which was founded in 2019 and was valued at $32 billion back in January. In the ad, David riffs on his familiar cantankerous Curb Your Enthusiasm persona by playing skeptic to a number of innovations throughout the course of human history, including the wheel, the toilet, and the light bulb. The ad ends on a slightly ominous note of caution: "Don’t be like Larry. Don’t miss out on the next big thing."
The ad plays into the widespread skepticism about the crypto market. In a New York Times article chronicling the making of the commercial, director Jeff Schaffer, a longtime David collaborator who has worked on Seinfeld and Curb, revealed that he doesn't exactly understand crypto either and was not paid in a digital currency. "That’s what I should have done—then I would understand it," he joked to the Times. "Maybe. Or I would simply lose it all."
I know, I know: How dare these celebrities undermine the sanctity of the pure art of the Super Bowl commercial? David and James were hardly the only stars collecting a presumably massive check to help promote a product. Scarlet Johannson and Colin Jost goofed on their relationship in an ad for Amazon's all-knowing helper Alexa, Matthew McConaughey donned a space suit to extol the virtues of Sales Force, and, in one of the more acclaimed commercials of the night, two actors from The Sopranos reunited to convince you to buy a car. A massive celebration of money, competition, and violence, the Super Bowl as a pop-culture event inevitably has a dystopian bent. But something about the crypto ads felt especially bleak, right?
Some have compared the rush of crypto ads to the dot-com Super Bowl of 2000, when soon-to-crash sites like Pets.com bet big on pricey ad space. At least those ads had funny mascots. So many aspects of the celebrity-driven crypto market have a perfunctory quality, like a copy of a copy of a copy. Even with a performer as funny and charming as Larry David at the center, there's still a dead-eyed dreariness to the entire endeavor. They must be storing the actual laughs in a digital wallet somewhere and they forgot the key.