Marketers in the blockchain space (all 12 of us) have been getting hammered with more and more bad news over the first quarter of this year as more and more of the traditional marketing channels become unavailable in the blockchain space. Most likely, this is because 92% of recent ICO projects were said to be scams, failed or have just gone dead, but were able to easily advertise on various platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Is a blanket ban on all cryptocurrency-related advertising the right approach? And how do real, legitimate blockchain projects continue to market themselves now that Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and AdWords are putting the kibosh on advertising blockchain companies?
Please Note: This is a Guest Post by Keith Baumwald, CMO of Celsius Network.
Big Companies Still don’t Get Crypto
One of the biggest problems facing the existing media giants is that they likely don’t understand cryptocurrency. Indeed, the cryptocurrency market is growing and evolving so quickly that it can be difficult for anyone who doesn’t dedicate a significant amount of their day to just keep up with current trends to stay up-to-date. Further, the mainstream media has started to take notice of the ICO craze and recent Ponzi scheme and exit scam events. John Oliver of Last Week Tonight recently did an entire segment about cryptocurrency.
Let’s look at it from perspective of the advertising platforms for a moment: Up until recently, any ICO could easily pay for advertisements touting 1000% returns to potential investors, raise a bunch of capital and then just disappear.
Naturally, victims of the scheme will want to blame whoever or whatever got them involved in it. A natural first step is to blame the site that hosted the advertisement in the first place.
While it is not clear if allowing advertising for what later turns out to be a scam makes a company legally liable, these large companies with a bottomless list of clients seem to simply be choosing to err on the side of caution by avoiding crypto entirely. For them, the headache isn’t worth whatever profit they’re leaving on the table.
Freedom of Speech and Advertising
There’s an interesting conundrum facing those that want to market their products. Let’s say for a moment that a company that sells guns legally wants to advertise on a major platform like Facebook, to customers that are in the United States. Selling guns to Americans in America is not illegal. Controversial to some, but again, not illegal.
However, Facebook may decide to enact a corporate policy preventing the advertisement of guns on their platform. This could be for a number of reasons, including the fact that Facebook has many users that are young, as well as users that may be strongly anti-gun ownership. Therefore, Facebook may choose not to show this type of advertising simply as a business decision, and not as a censorship one.
Here’s where things get complicated. As the advertising world becomes increasingly centralized, there are a smaller number of gatekeepers (i.e. Facebook, Google, and Twitter) which can make the decisions about what is acceptable and what is not. As a result, a number of things that are fully legal and even popular could find themselves running out of options for advertising.
While some may find advertising annoying or obtrusive, it is still an essential part of our global economy today. If these few gatekeepers decide to wholesale lockout entire industries, then it quickly becomes very similar to censorship.
Is the Wholesale Banning of Cryptocurrency Ads the Right Move?
While I suspect that the banning of cryptocurrency ads was one that was made primarily as a preventative measure, it’s probably not the right way to handle it.
All online advertising today still needs to undergo a review process. That’s why you don’t see advertising for things that are illegal, or are largely considered inappropriate by society. The gatekeepers do this so that things that are illegal or widely objectionable do not appear on the platform and upset their users.
However, as we enter further into the cryptocurrency revolution, advertising to the public at large, and not just cryptocurrency enthusiasts on crypto-focused websites, is becoming increasingly essential. This is because the aim of cryptocurrency at large is to achieve mass adoption. This will be much more difficult if cryptocurrency projects and companies are restricted from communicating with the general public through advertising. Advertising provides the vital function of educating the public about products or markets they might not otherwise be exposed to.
It’s quite likely that these bans on cryptocurrency advertising are not permanent. As more companies get involved in cryptocurrency, accept it as payment, and want to talk about it, general understanding of cryptocurrency will likely follow.
As such, advertisers will most likely be eventually equipped with enough knowledge to determine which crypto advertisements are good, and which ones should be avoided.
What can Crypto Projects do to Market Themselves Today?
Cryptocurrency at large is facing an important transition. Rapid adoption is already occurring with many thousands of people joining and buying cryptocurrency each day. Even if all advertising is banned on popular platforms, it cannot and will not prevent the spread of cryptocurrency.
Some ads are still able to get through Facebook’s filters. I saw a few ads, sure to be banned, using the word “bl0ckchain” to get around the filters on Facebook. During our recent campaigns we used the image to quickly convey the ad was about crypto and then wrote related copy without using words like “crypto, blockchain, ICO, tokens, etc.” that easily get flagged by Facebook’s algorithm.
We used similar copy and creative on Twitter, though the CTRs were much lower.
With AdWords soon to ban crypto companies advertising as well, the big 3 sources for spending marketing money are quickly disappearing. So where should you reallocate your marketing budget?
For the time being, you can still freely speak about cryptocurrency all you want on YouTube. Spend the money on quality video content and pay to promote it across the web. There are tons of people out there who will do a review or interview with your company, we saw really good ROI from these channels and they helped to bring the “hype,” which also lead to quite a few unsolicited and unpaid for videos (including the one below with Ian Balina).
I’ve spent the least amount of time in my career spending money on display ads, because other than remarketing, display ads have terrible ROI. It’s no different in the crypto world. But when you have less places to spend, you need to spend some of it here. We bought display ads on quite a few of the big crypto websites, we saw CTR’s over .25% but the ads were still expensive on a CPC basis. Advertising and design in crypto still generally suck, so doing something quality will help with brand awareness for all those eyeballs that see but don’t click.
These ads had CTRs of .27% on CoinMarketCap.
Today, a large number of people that discover cryptocurrency do so not through advertising or marketing, but through word-of-mouth and testimonials by people they trust. Recent studies suggest that the majority of Americans are already familiar with bitcoin at least on a conceptual level. This is also true in a number of other countries.
Word-of-Mouth is the best possible referral program and great for driving, true organic growth. Build a real brand people can identify with. Then create swag around that brand like T-shirts, stickers, etc. and give them out liberally in order to get people excited about your platform.
We send out swag to lots and lots of Celsius fans to get them to spread the word. We think of the people in our Telegram channel like the season ticket holders of a sports team. These people are your evangelists and your biggest fans, so treat them right and enable them to spread the word about your company.
New Content Platforms
Medium (for now), is still a great place to do content marketing. Further, a number of new social media platforms have appeared that support cryptocurrency openly (and even use it themselves) and tend to be more focused on freedom of speech as a core principle, instead of a passive ideal. Some examples of this include Steemit, Minds.com and Gab.ai to name a few. The sites have so far expressed no interest in banning cryptocurrency communications, and would more likely than not support such marketing endeavors.
Summing it All Up
These kinds of anti-cryptocurrency measures are most likely temporary, and intended to give the major platforms sometime to come to grips with how the cryptocurrency market operates today.
A number of countries are also developing and stabilizing their laws and regulations towards not only social media, but to cryptocurrency as well. This could potentially make it easier for the big companies to spot bad advertising clients and avoid them. It would also help real companies follow the clearly-stated rules in order to show their legitimacy.
For the time being, marketers have to be agile and quick to respond to changing market conditions and advertising channels on a daily business. Unfortunately, from an ROI perspective, the best performing channels look to be the first ones to go. At least, in the near term, the job for those marketing ICOs will only get harder.