Just What The Payments Industry Needs: The Mike Tyson Digital Wallet

When Bitcoin Direct on Monday (Jan. 4) unveiled the Mike Tyson Digital Wallet, it was asking for trouble. You know it’s a bad sign when your marketing move is so awful that Time Magazine can’t resist making fun of it.

“Mike Tyson was known for being volatile and dangerous in and out of the boxing ring, notably nibbling off Evander Holyfield’s ear in a 1997 match. He was also notoriously bad with money, going bankrupt in 2003,” the Time story noted. “These traits go fabulously well with bitcoin, the world’s most volatile currency that has lost those bold enough to invest significant amounts of money in it. Bitcoin is clearly the Mike Tyson of currencies.”

In his career, the fighter’s controversies have cost him endorsement deals with Diet Pepsi, USA Today, Toyota, Kodak “Suntory Beer and several banks and chambers of commerce,” noted the Chicago Tribune.

The point of a celebrity endorsement is that the celebrity’s brand has some positive attributes—bravery, intelligence, beauty, talent—that a company wants attributed to its brand. What exactly was the positive association Bitcoin Direct had in mind? How would this make consumers more comfortable using Bitcoin?

In the world of payments marketing, this is arguably the most “what were these people smoking?” move since Softcard—known then as ISIS (which itself was an interesting bit of name association)—hired a sleight-of-hand artist to demonstrate its mobile wallet at the South by Southwest conference in Austin back in 2012.

The ISIS/Softcard problem at the time was that no one believed that its mobile payment system would work and that it was all marketing smoke-and-mirrors. So they chose to put out a statement describing its show spokesperson as a “cyber illusionist” and its presentation as a “trick.”

But let’s get  back to Mike Tyson, because we truly can’t resist. The Bitcoin Direct statement claimed that “this is the first celebrity-associated digital wallet of any kind, bringing consumers the first mainstream digital wallet that allows the buying and selling of bitcoin, which also works with any bitcoin ATM across the U.S. and internationally.”

Were they expecting legions of celebrity-associated digital wallets by now? Maybe Lady Gaga NFC or the Kardashian QR Code?

The statement quoted CEO Peter Klamka saying that “Bitcoin Direct is pleased to partner with Mike Tyson because Tyson is a universally known star whose fan base extends generations. People around the world of all ages know Mike Tyson, and as such Tyson’s potential to expand the Bitcoin market is dramatic.”

Yes, Tyson’s name is well-known—which tends to happen when enough late-night comedians turn that name into a routine punchline. But how did they make that leap from “well-known name” to “potential to expand the Bitcoin market”?

Will grant them, though, that the word “dramatic” was a fair choice, but this payments marketing move is likely to be more of a tragedy than a drama.