There was something poetic about Elon Musk tanking the Dogecoin cryptocurrency on May 8’s "Saturday Night Live."
It’s pretty clear Musk has realized that his constant Twitter stream of consciousness—pivoting unpredictably between the sincere and visionary pursuit of space exploration and a wink-nudge exuberance around Dogecoin tech snark—is problematic. To say the least. Musk now genuinely seems concerned that the public and investors, unlearned in cryptocurrencies, don’t get the Dogecoin joke, or at least the level of unbridled speculation associated with the Doge. TLDR: it isn’t worth your life savings. Please stop investing based on billionaire Twitter tongue-in-cheek chat.
During SNL’s faux news show segment, "Weekend Update," Musk played “Financial Expert Lloyd Ostertag.” That’s when Weekend Update anchor Michael Che asked Musk: “What are cryptocurrencies?”
“They're a type of digital money, but instead of being controlled by a central government, they're decentralized using blockchain technology," Musk answered in character. "Lately, prices have been soaring for cryptos like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and especially Dogecoin."
Che followed up with what would become the central question of the segment: “So what is Dogecoin?”
Musk answered, “Well it started as a joke based on an internet meme. Now it's taken off in a very real way."
Che: “OK. But what is Dogecoin?”
Musk: “Well it was created in 2013 and has a circulating supply of 117 billion coins, of which 113 billion have already been mined."
Che deadpanned: "Right. Cool. So what is Dogecoin?"
“Yeah, like I said it’s a digital currency.”
“Like OK, for instance, this is a dollar,” Che said, producing a bill. “It’s real. So what is Dogecoin?”
“About as real as that dollar.”
“Now Colin,” Che said, bringing his cohost, Colin Jost, “Are you making any sense of this?”
“I’ve been reading a lot about it and I have been trying to diversify my investment portfolio and my question is: What is Dogecoin?”
“It’s the future of currency,” Musk answered. “It’s an unstoppable financial vehicle that’s going to take over the world.”
“I get it,” Che said before raising his voice with exasperation. “But what is it, man?”
Musk gave an uncomfortable smile and even shimmied his shoulders: “I keep telling you. It’s a cryptocurrency you can trade for conventional money.”
“Oh,” Che exclaimed before pronouncing this with a touch of a dismissive sneer. “So, it’s a hustle.”
And then one of the smartest businessmen in America pivoted hard to clean up his Twitter mess, within the forgiving, widely broadcast vehicle of comedy:
“Yeah, it’s a hustle,” admitted Musk.
Che, gracious in victory, shouted, “Why didn’t you say that man?”
Hours later CNBC would report: “Dogecoin plunges nearly 30% during Elon Musk’s SNL appearance.”
For PR people there’s a palpable sense of schadenfreude that comes from this moment. In October 2020 Musk dissolved the PR department of his company, Tesla. Recently in an April 28 article of the trade publication Electrek, Musk reaffirmed that decision, claiming that he: “doesn’t believe in manipulating public opinion.”
Well, good tech PR actually isn’t about manipulating the public. It’s about making sure the public learns, in a consumable way, the advantages of sincere, constructive technologies that may better our world. It’s about reining in Twitter flights of fancy that some take too seriously, wasting their life savings on unsafe bets because it came from their hero’s offhand comments. It’s about messaging consistency that saves you from yourself, when whim sidetracks your meaningful work on space exploration, environmental sustainability, and revitalizing communities like Brownsville, TX.
Tech PR can offer truth-telling shorthand for all executives around the thousands of cryptocurrencies that exist—why some have legitimate functions in building secure blockchains and why some, like Dogecoin, are a function of tech subculture snark. It’s the same snarky dark side of tech that has a smile on its face while delivering QAnon to a portion of the population that somehow drinks it up as legitimate. That’s essentially a bad tech joke too—now a force of irrationality and violence in America.
If Musk had allowed himself a less simplistic definition of the PR profession, his "Weekend Update" segment could’ve given us a fun glimpse into his moon tourism plans or asteroid colony-building. Or something better than cleanup. But Michael Che and Mr. Scarlett Johansson instead had to help Musk pull the public back from taking technobabble too seriously. They forced him to bottom-line what Dogecoin does in terms middle America understands.
Musk’s needed admission that Dogecoin is “a hustle” could have unfortunate longer-term repercussions for would-be investors who don’t study the functions of different cryptocurrencies and who felt like they witnessed an “emperor has no clothes” moment in the cryptocurrency narrative. If the self-professed “Dogefather” admits that coin is little more than smoke and mirrors, why trust crypto at all?
PR is about giving executives context to the world outside their bubble and helping them bridge what they want to communicate to what the world is capable of understanding. By cutting off that crucial corporate appendage, Musk has created a bit of an echo chamber and damage control scenarios that could have been avoided. Executives who follow in Musk’s footsteps are likely to face the same type of unrelenting questions, whether they come from "Weekend Update" or the Wall Street Journal.