At a cryptocurrency conference in Denver this month, a group of singers clad in bright orange onesies took the stage to perform what one industry website later described as an anthem for the crypto faithful, a “blockchain ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’”
The chorus was a list of crypto’s most notorious villains, from the trash-talking entrepreneur Do Kwon to the disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, punctuated by four-letter expletives.
“In the next bull market, we promise not to use,” the song continued, “centralized exchanges run by these toxic dudes.”
After a disastrous 2022, when a procession of prominent crypto firms imploded, the industry is angling for an audacious rebrand. Executives like Mr. Kwon and Mr. Bankman-Fried — once beloved crypto celebrities, with hundreds of thousands of devotees hanging on their every tweet — are now personae non gratae. Their former admirers argue that these crypto villains never truly embodied the industry’s core values, even before their companies collapsed.
At surviving firms, top executives are looking for new ways to market products that many consumers now distrust — and to distance themselves from former colleagues and mentors who could face years in prison. Some companies are trying to capitalize on the growing interest around artificial intelligence, with crypto schemes that feature convoluted A.I. tie-ins. Others are looking to replace the word “crypto,” arguing that the industry’s original nomenclature has become irredeemably tainted.
Crypto companies were “moving gradually towards changing the narrative” even before Mr. Bankman-Fried’s exchange failed in November, said Todd Irwin, the chief strategy officer at Fazer, a branding agency that has clients in the industry. “After the FTX incident, the move has been turbocharged.”
The cleansing effort is a familiar routine in an industry that has experienced repeated booms and busts over its short history. Early advocates of Bitcoin had to convince the public and regulators that cryptocurrency was more than just a convenient tool for drug dealers. A major crypto boom in 2017 was followed by a long period of law enforcement scrutiny, as exciting-sounding start-ups were exposed as scams.