People from various backgrounds are embarking on this journey to outer space. These crypto astronauts have, until recently, been hesitant to declare their involvement in the blockchain space. General sentiments around crypto were extremely negative due to the huge slew of scams disguised as cryptocurrency projects that swept through the continent, taking away hard-earned capital and confidence in anything branded with crypto.
Regulation has not helped in this case either. In most African countries with signs of strong crypto adoption, central banks issued statements that cast a shadow on the already “questionable” sector. In Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya, regulators took turns issuing warnings to the general public about the dangers involved with crypto. Being involved in crypto would regularly lead to a few chuckles and hostile responses anytime you were bold enough to admit it.
A new wind is blowing
The situation has changed dramatically in recent times. Real-life examples of early-investors-turned-influencers who acquired property through cryptocurrencies proved to be great ads. Furthermore, the degens who had been given a bad name for so long were relentless about their efforts to share the good news about cryptocurrencies. Those few who dared enter the space despite the bad PR placed a huge emphasis on education, which has resulted in crypto becoming a household name. Also, the economic conditions of the last few years made the argument for a decentralized permissionless digital economy more sound than ever.
Inside the new class of cryptocurrency adopters is a set of people who truly stand out: celebrities. They are everywhere — on our screens, on billboards and now in our crypto world. These famous athletes, musicians and actors are joining the space in many ways, but for the sake of this article, I will group them into three groups: promoters, experimenters and the curious.
Related: Here’s what’s happening in Web3 across Africa
As established already, the negative PR that crypto has faced in Africa means that lots of rebranding and promotion are needed. The huge interest in crypto on the continent has attracted some big spenders, such as Binance and FTX, which have large marketing budgets. Homegrown companies like Quidax and Yellow Card, which want to keep up with these international companies, have also adopted similar spending habits. A major feature of the marketing plans of all three companies mentioned is the inclusion of celebrities.
Binance is spending big in Africa. In early 2022 alone, Binance sponsored the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon and Nigerian Idol. Including popular faces in its education drive is a core part of its marketing efforts. In December 2021, the exchange signed deals with reality TV show Big Brother Naija participants Hazel Oyeze Onou, popularly known as Whitemoney; Ikechukwu Sunday Okonkwo, known as Cross; and Pere Egbi, known simply as Pere. Since the announcement, the trio has been featured in several educational videos targeted at potential new users of cryptocurrency.
FTX is also making huge marketing moves on the continent. In an attempt to attract a female demographic, which has been hard to reach, FTX Africa partnered with six female celebrities to push Web3, including actor Cynthia Nwadiora, actor Beverly Naya, lifestyle influencer Aunty Ada, Big Brother Naija star Saskay, TV personality Serwaa Amihere and actor Osas Ighodaro.
Related: Women’s interest in crypto grows, but education gap persists
Nigeria-based Quidax is not slowing down as it intends to compete with various international exchanges entering the market. In March 2022, the exchange announced popular Nigerian music producer Don Jazzy as its brand ambassador alongside five other celebrities: Diane Russet and Bisola Aiyeola — both actors and reality TV stars — actor Timini Egbuson, celebrity chef Gbubemi Fregene and musician M.I Abaga.
Yellow Card is another exchange based in Nigeria looking to capture market share on the continent. The exchange announced a partnership with Ghanaian dancehall artist Stonebwoy to spread crypto awareness in West Africa.
Another set of celebrities who have entered the space are the experimenters. These big names have set the stage for blockchain technology to be used to amplify creativity and harness new ways to connect with fandoms through nonfungible tokens (NFTs), the Metaverse and fan tokens.
In Nigeria, Bnxn and Falz are two of the biggest artists to have released an NFT. Bnxn (formerly known as Buju) launched HeadsByBnxn, a collection of 10,001 NFTs designed around him and his journey in the music industry. The project was launched on the Polygon blockchain to make minting more affordable. Holders are treated to exclusive listening parties and in-person and virtual shows.
Falz, another popular artist, landed a deal with the Binance NFT Marketplace, where he exclusively sells his Falz Ice Cream collection. Like Bnxn’s collection, there are exclusive experiences for people holding the NFTs. I had the chance to speak to Falz about his collection on Cointelegraph’s flagship Twitter Spaces show, Crypto Talk Africa. As he said:
“With this [NFTs], I think it not only offers a different avenue for artists to exploit their intellectual property, it also offers an avenue to organically build a community, you know? And this latter one is what I’m very excited about.”
Why are musicians jumping on the NFT hype? @falzthebahdguy is excited about the ability to build a community organically using nonfungible tokens.
What is your favorite NFT by a celeb? pic.twitter.com/IuQOlfUr9O
— Cointelegraph (@Cointelegraph) May 10, 2022
KiDi, the reigning Ghana Music Awards artist of the year, is a recent addition to the long list of celebrities releasing NFTs. His two-tier drop is set to come with multiple utilities. In a YouTube video about the drop, KiDi claims that the lower tier, KiDi Classic, will give global fans a sense of ownership of his craft. The higher tier, KiDi VIP Pass, will reward fans with discounts at physical and virtual events and exclusive virtual parties.
In Kenya, hip-hop star Octopizzo announced that he would be releasing five songs as nonfungible tokens. His approach is very different from the rest, as he is set to release fractional NFTs that will give holders a share of royalties.
Kenyan hip hop star, @octopizzo, will be releasing 5 tracks as NFTs that can be purchased by anyone in Africa and the world on OpenSea. #mynftafrica #nftafrica #nft #kenya #nfts #nftcollection #nftgiveaway pic.twitter.com/GCx90Xpaso
— NFT AFRICA (@myNFTAfrica) February 20, 2022
Kwaito musician DJ Sbu became one of the first artists in South Africa to release an NFT. The “DJ Sbu Enters The Metaverse” collection sold 10 pieces in three days. The DJ has since indicated plans to release other collections in the future after the success of the first.
Not everyone is experimenting with NFTs, however. Unlike other people mentioned in this section, popular Afrobeats and Afropop artist Davido (whose real name is David Adedeji Adeleke) opted to launch a fan token.
The ECHOKE token was announced in November 2021. It is expected to run on BNB Smart Chain and offer holders the ability to attend festivals, buy merchandise, get concert tickets and enter exclusive giveaways.
It’s still too early to issue a verdict on how successful these experiments have been; however, the level of activity by creatives in the space points to a lot of potential for the adoption of blockchain technology in the entertainment sector.
Related: Celebrities are embracing NFTs in a big way
Probably the group closest to the word “degen,” the curious celebrities are not just promoting cryptocurrencies but are knee-deep in the space and are known to be power users.
One such celebrity is Don Jazzy, a music producer behind hit songs from major names like Ayra Starr and Rema. In an interview with Chris Ani on Daba TV, Don Jazzy revealed that he made $300,000 in a short period from NFT sales. In an Instagram post showing his NFT collection, some blue-chip NFTs such as Cool Cats and Mutant Ape Yacht Club were spotted. Don Jazzy has also become a regular fixture on Crypto Twitter, offering support for some African NFT projects, such as AfroDroids.
Symply Tacha is another celebrity active in the cryptocurrency community. Tacha has become a household name on African Crypto Twitter for her NFT investments and community engagements. She is so popular that new NFT projects partner with her for whitelist giveaways and promotions.
It’s hard to tell how many celebrities really fall under this category, as some may prefer to keep their investments private.
A welcome addition or not?
Opinions are split on the increase of celebrity participation in the crypto space. One side of the debate believes that celebrities are a welcome addition, while the other side believes that all of this is just a quick cash grab.
The biggest opposition thus far came after the launch of FTX Africa’s “Women Who Crypto” campaign, which involved partnering with several female celebrities to promote crypto in an attempt to attract women to the space. Crypto Twitter quickly erupted with several critics of the initiative. The overarching argument was that the campaign could have relied on women already in the crypto space instead of celebrities who may not be as blockchain-native.
Some of these comments came from influencers such as UnkleAyo and Ademi.
To say the least, this is a disrespect to women who actually grind in the space!
Not one of them on? And you want to onboard into web3?
Top off my head active traders and builders in this space and NONE of this women will land top 50.
BBN Web3? https://t.co/Z8UOeqIvfa
— °S.A.L.A.K.O™ (@UnkleAyo) April 7, 2022
Shame on FTX though.
I’m a woman in Crypto from Africa and none of the women in Crypto making Impact are even here. https://t.co/g2CBZ2QvM3
— Ademi (@Ademiici) April 7, 2022
I asked Harri Obi, marketing and public relations lead at FTX Africa, about the rationale behind the campaign and his reaction to the ad’s feedback. This was his answer:
“To be honest, we anticipated the response. Conversations around women in the Web3 space, or lack thereof, have always elicited heavy arguments from supporters and non-supporters alike. And that was really our goal — to spark up a conversation around the subject matter.”
Harri continued: “If you followed the conversation that day, there was a mixed reaction to the ad. People were confused about the lack of crypto representation in the ad, but when we explained the idea behind the ad and the goal, the sentiments started changing. But most importantly, we’ve gone on to develop and execute tactical executions of the campaign.”
Osaretin Victor Asemota, a crypto pioneer and retired investor, believes that crypto needs to put on a serious face and position its power users at the forefront instead of attention-grabbing celebrities:
“We need people to take crypto seriously and have to find serious users to endorse crypto. I don’t like the celebrity endorsements, even though I have nothing against the celebrities. It is just grabbing for attention and using models similar to those that seemed to work elsewhere. We have different types of celebrities.”
Asemota continued: “They live in a world far removed from our reality. I think the real celebrity we need to promote crypto is the African trader. They made crypto scale, and their stories need to be told. They are the people who need it, and we need more like them. Crypto in Africa is more of an infrastructure for commerce than investing in assets.”
Related: Crypto firms ignore Africa at their peril as continent set for major adoption
The crypto future for Africa
At the end of the day, everyone has a role to play in ensuring that crypto gets the recognition and adoption we want. The promoters, experimenters and curious are all bringing people to cryptocurrencies. Promoters directly point users to specific apps and products, which is extremely important considering the overwhelming nature of the space for newbies. Experimenters bring a crowd of users who would traditionally not look twice at crypto. For example, someone may not be interested in buying “beautiful art” NFTs but could be attracted to digital collectibles because that is the only way to connect to their favorite artist on a personal level. Finally, the curious could be a bullish case for people looking for examples around them of those who have made money from the crypto space or some sort of significant investment.
These celebrities have built huge followings, which is extremely important for the mainstream recognition that cryptocurrency wants. However, some critics point to important issues that we have to look into. Celebrities may have to put more skin in the game to prevent pump and dumps and the promotion of questionable projects for a quick paycheck. With a troubling brand image that only got cleaner recently, perhaps brands, celebrities, and stakeholders have to tread cautiously to prevent further controversy that may derail all the work done in the last few years.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Elisha Owusu Akyaw, also known as GhCryptoGuy, is a social media specialist at Cointelegraph. He got involved in cryptocurrencies at 16 and took it upon himself to educate the masses about crypto. Elisha has worked as a freelance writer for several blogs and is a former business developer for Binance in Ghana.