NFTs, Celebrities and Perverse Deal-Making

As crypto company MoonPay continues its marketing push, it's unclear whether celebrity enthusiasm for NFTs is real.

By Will GottsegenLayer 2
Jan 31, 2022 at 7:43 p.m. UTCUpdated Feb 3, 2022 at 2:14 p.m. UTC
By Will GottsegenLayer 2
Jan 31, 2022 at 7:43 p.m. UTCUpdated Feb 3, 2022 at 2:14 p.m. UTC

Will Gottsegen is CoinDesk's media and culture reporter. He holds ETH and two NFTs above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1000.

Early last week, a viral clip from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” began making the rounds on social media. In it, Fallon’s guest, the socialite turned crypto promoter Paris Hilton, shows off a picture of one of her recent NFT purchases: a reddish Bored Ape complete with hat and sunglasses.

“It’s really cool,” Hilton drawls, as if reading from cue cards. “The hat. The shades.”

The affectless, openly promotional nature of the clip drew plenty of ire from media commentators over the course of the week. Vice called it “frankly, hallucinogenic,” while New York magazine likened it to a “crypto-Herbalife pitch,” in a nod to the infamous multilevel marketer and nutrition company. The moment even inspired a piece titled “NFTS Are, Quite Simply, Bulls**t,” from the left-wing magazine Jacobin.

And while the clip is indeed difficult to watch, the real culprit isn’t Fallon or Hilton, but MoonPay, the crypto custodian and payments processor whose marketing strategy hinges on these sorts of celebrity endorsements. The company planted a promotion in a recent music video for a Post Malone song with The Weeknd, and has acted as a “concierge” for NFT purchases on behalf of Snoop Dogg, Gunna, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, Gwyneth Paltrow, Diplo and Kevin Hart.

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Its message is simple: Dealing with Ethereum, self-hosted wallets, seed phrases and NFT marketplaces is a hassle. MoonPay agrees to handle all the tech stuff, shepherding pricey NFTs into the hands of non-crypto celebrities. On its website, MoonPay targets the paid service toward “high net worth individuals.”

While there's nothing inherently wrong with helping celebrities get into crypto (and potentially having them boast about your services on late-night talk shows and social media), MoonPay hasn't been exactly forthcoming about its financial relationships. It hasn't disclosed whether it’s paying for advertisements or asking people to post about its app in exchange for a service, leaving the question open as to whether this is a quid pro quo.

There’s a long history of fly-by-night fintech companies using celebrities to promote crypto. A rising tide lifts all boats, goes the thinking: If celebrities get the public on board, the industry expands and bag holders get richer. Creating the illusion of an NFT gold rush inevitably inspires FOMO (the fear of missing out).

But because MoonPay may or may not be paying for straightforward promotions and advertisements, it’s unclear whether celebrity enthusiasm for NFTs is genuine.

In an interview with The Block, MoonPay CEO Ivan Soto-Wright deflected a question as to who approaches whom, describing the company’s outreach process as “100% organic,” the kind of thing that just happened to spring out of conversations with celebrities “who are all excited about the promise of NFTs to transform the way digital rights, intellectual property and fan relationships are managed.”

Other crypto investors are following a similar playbook.

When another Bored Ape sold for 500 ETH this past weekend (that’s $1.3 million – well over the current “floor” price of around 116 ETH), some speculated Justin Bieber was behind it. Bieber fanned the flames by posting a picture of the NFT on his official Instagram page but said nothing about actually making the purchase.

A quick look at the Ethereum wallet associated with the million-dollar ape (it’s tied to an unverified account on OpenSea called JustinBieberNFTs) shows that two days ago, another wallet sent it over 900 ETH.

See also: Kim Kardashian and Ethereum Max. Why? | David Z. Morris

That other address appears to be associated with Gianpiero D’Alessandro – the creator of an NFT project called InBetweeners, which Bieber has already been promoting for weeks on Twitter and Instagram. The address is linked to D’Alessandro’s verified account on OpenSea.

Just after the ape sold, the InBetweeners Twitter account began gloating about how the (maybe) Bieber-owned NFT was inflating the price of InBetweeners NFTs.

Celebrities may genuinely want to invest in these assets, or think they’re joining a movement, but they’re also increasingly the targets of marketers with other agendas.

Still, for a price, they’ll gladly sell you the moon.


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Will Gottsegen is CoinDesk's media and culture reporter. He holds ETH and two NFTs above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1000.

Will Gottsegen is CoinDesk's media and culture reporter. He holds ETH and two NFTs above CoinDesk's disclosure threshold of $1000.

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