How Sam Bankman-Fried Mastered the Art of Crypto Marketing

The “most generous billionaire” weaponized altruism to built an almost mythical brand, Web3 marketing expert Tim Haldorsson writes.

AccessTimeIconNov 7, 2023 at 9:23 p.m. UTC
Updated Nov 7, 2023 at 9:52 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconNov 7, 2023 at 9:23 p.m. UTCUpdated Nov 7, 2023 at 9:52 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconNov 7, 2023 at 9:23 p.m. UTCUpdated Nov 7, 2023 at 9:52 p.m. UTC

Sam Bankman-Fried's story is a rollercoaster journey of a crypto marketing savvy. He was entrepreneur who founded the FTX crypto exchange and gained widespread admiration before falling from grace.

Tim Haldorsson is the CEO of crypto growth agency Lunar Strategy.

How did someone who had won the hearts of the masses and the mindshare of major institutions end up on a bullet train to prison for committing fraud? His fall from the dizzying heights as CEO of a $32 billion crypto exchange to the sobering depths of multiple criminal convictions is one for the ages.

The rise of Sam Bankman-Fried

Bankman-Fried's career trajectory was nothing short of parabolic. A few years into founding what would become one of the largest crypto exchanges, he pulled off an impressive $1.8 billion fundraising feat from top investors.

Two years after founding FTX (with Gary Wang), it had become one of a few crypto "unicorns," valued at $18 billion. By the time of FTX's now infamous Super Bowl ad, the exchange boasted over one million users and its valuation had nearly doubled to $32 billion.

At its peak, FTX saw $21 billion in average daily trading volumes, ranking among the world’s top three crypto exchanges. Bankman-Fried continued to expand operations aggressively and seek out the spotlight; he tapped a bevy of new investors when raising the $420 million "meme round" in Series-C funding. There was no doubt about it: within a few short years, his company had become a titan of the crypto industry.

You’re probably wondering by now: “How did he manage to achieve such success so quickly?” The short answer lies in his marketing strategies. Sam Bankman-Fried didn't just follow the industry playbook; he rewrote it.

Billion-dollar marketing actics

FTX's path to crypto superstardom was marked by a series of calculated moves orchestrated via a multi-faceted marketing approach devised by none other than Bankman-Fried himself.

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By branding himself as the “most generous billionaire” in the world, Bankman-Fried weaponized altruism as a subversive mass-marketing tool.
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He leveraged influencer marketing, signing high-profile deals with celebrities such as Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen and Stephen Curry as brand ambassadors — going as far as offering some of them equity stakes in the company. He utilized strategic partnerships with beloved global brands, including the Mercedes Formula One team, the Washington Wizards NBA team and buying the naming rights to the Miami Heat stadium, to mention a few.

By branding himself as the “most generous billionaire” in the world, Bankman-Fried weaponized altruism as a subversive mass-marketing tool. He created an enigmatic, almost mythical, self image designed to appeal to the average Joe or Jane. He claimed to sleep on a beanbag, practiced veganism and drove a Toyota Corolla despite his well-documented fortune.

The extent and efficacy of his publicity campaign are probably best defined by the popular acronym by which he was affectionately referred to – SBF. Just like you would give a nickname to a close friend, SBF had created the illusion of a mild-mannered, affable, yet approachable personality that endeared him to millions across the globe.

His star power contributed immensely to the success of the FTX corporate brand. As both were inextricably linked, the fame attached to SBF’s name amplified that of FTX, and vice versa.

In addition, Bankman-Fried used the FTX Foundation and the FTX Future Fund to dish out investments in everything from crypto ecosystem funding to academic grants and political donations, which earned him favor in the eyes of the public and his institutional stakeholders.

In reality, it was all just another layer of fraudulent activity that crippled the development of several promising projects. Bankman-Fried is quoted as saying that the entirety of FTX’s marketing was a "bunch of bullshit" devised to create a rosy image of the company in the public eye. And it worked.

Things fall apart

The zenith of Bankman-Fried's success, however, was followed by an abrupt fall. Things took a dark turn as controversies began to surface. Ethical concerns about fund management were raised, and allegations of wrongdoing started to emerge, prompting a series of criminal investigations.

The world learned that for years, Bankman-Fried and his associates had engaged in fraudulent activities, syphoning off user funds and perpetrating misdeeds that shocked the crypto community. His carefully curated public image was forever tarnished as it shifted from that of a brilliant entrepreneur to an embattled figure, transforming him from a celebrated whiz of modern marketing to a disgraced public figure.

What was once admiration has now turned into condemnation as the result of his recently concluded high-profile criminal lawsuit points toward the inevitable prospect of jail time. Bankman-Fried was indicted on seven criminal charges, including wire fraud as well as conspiracy charges to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, commodities fraud and money laundering. He has been found guilty on all counts and awaits sentencing, even as he faces up to 110 years in jail.

In the end

The tragic story of Sam Bankman-Fried is a stark reminder of how rapidly fortunes can change in the world of crypto. From marketing and business maverick to convicted criminal, his downward spiral serves as a cautionary tale for the entire crypto ecosystem, especially marketers.

Bankman-Fried’s fate illustrates that the crypto world, like any other, is not immune to dishonesty and deception. Furthermore, it emphasises the importance of transparency, ethical conduct and accountability in this nascent landscape and the consequences of unethical practices and the negative impact they can have on the entire ecosystem.


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Tim Haldorsson

Tim Haldorsson is the CEO of crypto growth agency Lunar Strategy.