Why Crypto Company OKX Remains Bullish Despite Market Infamy

The firm has ditched programmatic ads for strategic brand partnerships

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Six-year-old cryptocurrency exchange OKX has made significant changes to its marketing strategy over the last year, swapping programmatic ads for strategic brand awareness partnerships and focusing on changing consumer sentiment rather than tying marketing efforts to sales.

“[In 2022] we showed up in the market in a very audacious way when everyone was scared,” said Haider Rafique, OKX’s CMO. “In this case, the fun part was that nobody knew who OKX was.”

The very public display of the crypto industry’s ills over the last few years has eroded people’s trust. The collapse of crypto exchange FTX in November 2022—plus last week’s guilty charges of FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried for fraud—have further exacerbated the ongoing cooling of sentiment. FTX’s collapse played a role in OKX’s decision to withdraw its Super Bowl ad campaign in 2023, said Rafique, leading to zero crypto ads in the Big Game, a stark contrast to the year prior. Now, crypto companies like OKX, and Kraken which launched its largest marketing campaign to date in October, are finding longer-term ways to connect with potential customers.

“The crypto industry is focused on trying to rehabilitate its image in the wake of so much negative publicity,” said Andrew Frank, VP distinguished analyst at Gartner. “Trying to actually change public perception of an entire industry strikes me as an incredibly difficult thing [in advertising].”

Brand partnerships over digital media spend

OKX was aggressive in digital ad spend during the first half of 2022, especially on Google and Twitter. The company also invested $1 million dollars in testing programmatic ads.

“We realized it took us almost 12 months to break even on that spend,” said Rafique. 

OKX roughly spent over $100 million on total ad spend in 2022, including programmatic and social ads, according to Rafique. This year, this budget has been reduced to $24 million.

“What’s better is to spend those digital dollars through sports and entertainment properties,” he added. 

OKX secured its first exclusive deal with U.K. soccer club Manchester City in March 2022, involving the placement of OKX branding on the left sleeves of players. Since then, the company has inked two more agreements, the most recent in June this year. These combined deals amounted to over $70 million, reported Forbes.

Following the deal with Manchester City, OKX expanded its brand affiliations in a multi-year deal with McLaren Formula 1 in 2022. The latest arrangement this year includes the prominent placing of the OKX brand logo on the cars’ side pods for seven races.

After deals with McLaren Formula 1 and Manchester City, OKX saw 70% brand recall in a survey of 800 people from March 2022 to January of this year, the company said.

The crypto firm also sponsored the Tribeca Film Festival in June and created NFT passes for festival attendees while establishing an interactive “NFT Lab” letting people mint their own NFTs.

“We have access to close to 250 million followers globally [via these partnerships],” said Rafique. “It’s a deeper connection than just buying inventory on a bunch of different websites where you think your audience is.”

In 2022, OKX spent $3 million on social media ads. The company has slashed its Twitter spend by 80% and reallocated that budget to TikTok, where it has noticed more favorable brand recall, according to internal surveys.

The company is also investing in developing branded content, but Rafique wouldn’t share specifics.

Changing public perception

While a whole host of CMOs typically try to connect their marketing endeavors to sales, OKX—as a relatively young company—is placing greater emphasis on internal success metrics related to consumer sentiments. The company tracks this via social media listening tools and polls after its event experiences, such as the F1 activations. Reports claim the exchange has 50 million-plus users.

In a poll of over 350 people that OKX conducted on X, 80% of people expressed positive sentiments towards the company’s partnership initiatives.

After its Token2049 F1 McLaren Fanzone campaign in September, 83% of Fanzone’s 7,000 attendees opened an OKX Wallet, while 80% wanted to learn more about OKX.

“I was very clear in setting that expectation with our founder when I was being recruited,” said Rafique. “It is ultimately about the feeling of our customers and clients.”

This article has been updated to state that OKX roughly spent more than $100 million on total ad spend in 2022.

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